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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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?
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 protection.
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
it's not depressing
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.
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
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.
How did you get the film made?
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.
And casting Don Cheadle?
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.
How did you research the subject?
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.
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.
Rwanda opens December 22, in select cities. http://www.mgm.com/ua/hotelrwanda/main.html