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Terry GeorgeBluntly Speaking | Terry George
an emily blunt interview





Bluntly speaking?
Writer director Terry George has created some remarkable and strong films; In The Name of the Father, Some Mother's Son, The Boxer, A Bright and Shining Lie etc. Now George brings a very personal and important film to us in Hotel Rwanda.

Hotel Rwanda is an accurate (it is ninety percent non-fictional) account of a country that descended into a black hole back in 1994. Abandoned by the world, Rwanda faced a monumental uprising alone. Uncontrolled or assisted the unthinkable happened - genocide on a massive scale. Considering The Sudan is now in similar peril the film could change the course of history - if people will listen.

George is no stranger to tough subjects and being a Belfast Northern Ireland native, who was active in political stands himself, he had been looking for a realistic and powerful feature film to write and produce. He found the story of Rwandan hotel manager Paul Ruseabagina, who during the 100+ day uprising, harbored and saved 1268 refugees - single handedly - by sheer will for life and human determination.

George says the project was exciting and fearful. He was excited of the story as the filmmaker and fearful as a man of failing this Paul and his heroic and warning-signal tale. But, he knew it was a story that had to be told.

Casting the acting force Don Cheadle, as Paul, he now had to find funding - not an easy task for a film that would spotlight on the world's shame and cover a stunning subject matter. But against what could be called insurmountable odds George got Rwanda made and the film has moved festival audiences to tears, captured top awards from TIFF, AFI, and AGF, and will be opening in selected cities in December 2004.

Hotel Rwanda is a powerful film, on the scale of Schindler's List, made with a much smaller budget, less media fanfare, but with just as big a message and soul. We talked recently in Los Angeles.

Emily: This film is absolutely heart breaking. It also seems like it would have been very hard to get made, given its blunt honesty and subject matter. Can you talk about the road to development?

Terry: It was a very scary challenge for all of us involved in Hotel Rwanda, but that same challenge seemed to invigorate everyone who worked on the film.

Emily: You got Paul Ruseabagina, who inspired the film and fled Rwanda, to return to where it all happened for your research. Can you talk about that?

Terry: It was the first time he'd been back since the genocide, he now lives in Belgium, and there was an amazing greeting at the tarmac at the airport with some of the people from the hotel that Paul [Ruseabagina] saved. We went back to the Milles Collines Hotel were Paul met many of the people he saved; cooks, assistants, gardeners. It was very moving for me. Our hotel is much deliberately more elaborate in the film just to create the sense of the old colonial legacy. The Milles Collines is more of a glorified Best Western and I got a sense of the task that he managed to pull off. We traveled the country going to genocide sites. The big thing for me was going to South Rwanda, to the former technical college at Marambi, where in April of 1994 the Tutsi residents were sent word that they should gather there for Terry Georgeprotection. About 40,000 and 45,00 showed up and within the next few days they were slaughtered by the militia in the various classrooms and buried in mass graves. They had lime thrown on them. And I don't know the process of lime but it somehow preserved the bodies-kind of like Pompeii frozen in the moment of their death. It was …the saddest…it's not depressing… there's strange…spirituality about it. It was a moment for me that I got closest to the genocide. The weird thing is it had turned their skin white- the color that would have saved their lives. It was then I promised to tell the story. I didn't care what was happening it was getting made.

Emily: In the film there's a different kind of "main character" in the form of a radio station. It was a heavy ominous character that loomed through out - gaining strength. Can you talk about that decision?

Terry. Yes. It was during my travel of the sites I discovered why the genocide happened very specifically - it was that radio station that turned what would have been a civil war and reprisals into a very systematic slaughter of neighbors. It was that radio station that was able to coerce mobilize the whole population into killing their neighbors. It was a challenge, actually Jim Sheridan a partner and friend, came up with putting the station right up at the start from the darkness. We were looking for some way to sum up some of the politics of Rwanda - to get the audience to know where they were - it's such a far off place. It was just finding those moments. There are verbatims in the film, like "Get out here and kill the cockroaches" for example or so and so is escaping, go get him! Was spread over the airways. I got this from the research into the radio station itself. It was also important to show where hate radio could end up.

Emily: How did you get the film made?

Terry: It was mainly through producer Alex Ho [A. Kitman Ho] the co-prodcre. People really liked the script. It had a good reputation through out this town. But nobody wanted to take it the risk on. It had what I consider the three-strike story; African American leads, a black cast, an African subject and genocide. First of all I don't think there's any color bar in any film if you're into it and trying not to make truthful story. Secondly I had a particular knowledge of sectarian division; and how that's manipulated, the fear that's injected into ordinary people from the threat of the "other side." It's a million fold the story of Northern Ireland but the root of it is still the same; divide and conquer, create a sense of fear that the other person is going to rob you of your property and possibly you life. Alex managed to take the script to Toronto last year and got a sizable grant, or investment from the Gauteng Film Office - the old Johannesburg Commission - and backing from the South African Government and parlay that into film funding - he created a bridging treaty between s Africa and England. And Chris McGuirk at MGM loved the script was particularly of having Don in a leading role. I came across a first draft by my co-writer Keir Pearson, I called am said, "I'm a independent film maker but I think it's the best shot to get it made. And I contacted Paul and convinced him I was the person to go with. I was looking for feature film that touched upon these subjects.

Hotel Rwanda Don CheadleEmily: And casting Don Cheadle?

Terry: I'd always wanted Don. But I was honest - I said if the money doesn't come from there I've gotta go with the money 'cause this film's getting made. Luckily it stayed with him. I knew of and loved his work. He goes into a role and takes it onboard. He's very similar - not in intensity - but ability as a Daniel Day Lewis. You get out of him an incredible piece of the craft. I knew there'd be a truth, a disappearance from Don that would talk to the truth of the whole piece. There doesn't have to be line direction with him. You just say, "Blah blah blah," and off you go.

Emily: How did you research the subject?

Terry: I saw a helluva lot of documentary footage and read a ton of books. I read as much as possible. Frontline footage was spectacular as well Panorama Britain's equivalent of Frontline. They were basically about the West's apathy and active blocking of involvement. And of course Paul's incredible and personal story. I kept the facts 90 percent accurate actually. As a filmmaker I'm generally more interested in real stories. There's a selfish reason n it in that you don't have to go off anywhere for a piece of plot that you're struggling for - the basic story is there. It's about sandpapering it out and distilling it. Secondly it's a hard enough job getting up in the morning without not feeling good about what you're doing. The old maxim that truth is stranger than fiction is always the case.


Hotel Rwanda is a powerful, meaningful, film that doesn't hold back. Terry George uses his medium as intended, to move people. Here, it's not fluffy entertainment, but important filmmaking.

Hotel Rwanda opens December 22, in select cities.





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