A Look Inside “Hotel Rwanda”
An Interview with Director Terry George
by Bill Gallagher

Since almost every last dollar he could scrape together went into the making of “Hotel Rwanda,” there’s not a lot left for a huge-bucks advertising blitz, so its director, Terry George, is mounting an aggressive grassroots effort to make sure it is seen. To that purpose he flew into Portland last month, was whisked from the airport to Pioneer Place Cinemas to host a screening and answer questions afterwards. Less than ten hours later he was seated in the lobby of the Heathman Hotel, fortified by some Starbucks coffee and anxious to talk with BrainstormNW about his movie.

BG - You said last night that the Portland Police Bureau could have put down the Rwandan genocide.

TG - That’s right. The Hutu Army was deeply divided itself whether to get involved in this or not. A big part of that Hutu Army supported the peace accords. So that when the President was killed (it was blamed on Tutsis) they were kind of forced into this action. And the inaction of the west left them with no choice. They felt that the militants of that militia that you saw and the militants of the Hutu Army would kill them if they didn’t participate. So you end up dealing with a small force in the army and basically a rag-tag militia equipped mainly with machetes and clubs and so forth. An efficient armed force, a peacekeeping force, easily could have broken the will of the moderates who were not sure about this. Once Kigali was controlled, the rest of the nation would have followed suit.

This was not like Mogadishu in Somalia. You were not dealing with hordes upon hordes of heavily armed, fanatical supporters of a warlord. And that was one of the big tragedies of it. The actual forces on the ground—the UN force combined with the intervention force that went in to evacuate the Americans and the Europeans—could have contained this.

BG - This was going on while we were watching OJ news all the time in 1994. Even if more people had known or been aware of the genocide…if they saw Hutus killing Tutsis…do you think they could have done anything?

TG - It’s a bigger thing. It’s more…all of us collectively saying we’ve got to have peacekeeping, peacemaking around the world…of debased and defunct dictatorships. This has got to be dealt with. If the UN is not capable, then there’s got to be a meeting of the Big Eight (industrialized nations). If they could meet over the economy, surely they could meet over Africa and put together a force.

God knows in Iraq at the minute it seems to me a quarter to a third of the security situation there is being managed by private security firms. So if we can put that together, why can’t we put together some sort of foreign legion force that can intervene in these situations without having the political ramifications that the loss of soldiers from any particular country has with the UN?

Take it out of national politics because Clinton’s big fear was a repeat of the political repercussions from Somalia. Individual countries need to be isolated from that.

BG - You have a message for Phil Knight of Nike from the Rwandans, “Please come and exploit us.” Please explain.

TG - That’s what a Rwandan senator said to me. Basically the economy of Rwanda is built on tea, coffee and mountain guerillas. The small amount of tourism they had before is now gone because of the stigma of genocide. If Rwanda could get a break, could get some fledgling industry in there to kick start the economy, it would change the perspective of the place.

That’s what the Senator (Odet Nyramilimo, who plays a doctor in “Hotel Rwanda”) said: “We want to be exploited. We have cheap labor here. People are ready to work, you know, come here.”

BG - But don’t you think if Phil Knight saw your movie he’d say, “No way am I taking a chance on Rwanda”?

TG - No. If he studied the situation with the government that’s there at the minute, it’s trying to establish a stable government. The only way we’re going to get stability is for people to take a risk. And I don’t think that it’s a huge risk to start off with a few factories that would revitalize the economy.

BG - I noticed that in “Hotel Rwanda” you kept having the camera focus on the crucifix worn by Paul Rusesabagina’s wife. Was that deliberate and if so, why?

TG - Yeah. I mean, there’s a sense of religiosity in the film. Particularly with….the way missionaries…you know the Italian priest and the nuns and so forth. Because I saw documentary footage of, literally, nuns being pulled apart from their children that they cared for. I wanted to inject the work of missionaries and that it is, and was, a religious country, even though some of the worst organizers of the genocide were bishops and priests throughout Rwanda. That’s one of the great scandals of the genocide itself. The division in that society was complete.

BG - Don Cheadle does a tremendous job as Paul Rusesabagina. Did you know going in he would be that good?

TG - I think there’s something weird going on with Don Cheadle. He’s a great-looking guy. He’s a phenomenal actor. He plays the piano. He dances really well. He’s good at sports. He has a beautiful family. I just want him to take off his shoes and prove to me he doesn’t have cloven hooves or something like that, you know?

BG - What about all the Oscar talk? Is that important in getting more people to see “Hotel Rwanda?”

TG - It’s hugely important. For films like this it’s the only way to have the possibility of what they call “cross over,” to break out of the art-house syndrome. The man who sponsored independent films the most years ago, Harvey Weinstein (head of Miramax Studios), has turned this race into this bottomless pit of money that has to be thrown at it. The ads have to start in October and they’ve got to run through January. We probably…with MGM’s real support I wouldn’t be surprised if the ad budget for this doesn’t outreach the budget for the film. And that’s a bit sick. Let’s get control of this.

What somebody needs to do is have a film so good that it’s going to sweep (the Oscars) and not participate in it. I know Mel Gibson has taken this high road of not advertising and all….and good for him…but he’s 340 million dollars later in profit… and we have to pay back our financiers.

BrainstormNW - December 2005

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