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January 12, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

Posted by admin

Last night I went to a screening of Hotel Rwanda. People who had seen it had urged me to see it with a quiet intensity that I rarely hear connected to a film. (I think the last time I heard this was when people were talking about Life is Beautiful.) Everyone told me to be prepared to cry; no one told me to prepare to be stunned by what I was seeing on the screen.

The story takes place in Rwanda in 1994 during the war between the country's Hutu and Tutsi people, following the assasination of the country's Hutu president. The extremist Hutus use this death as a reason to kill the Tutsis. This movie is the story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager at the 4-star Mille Collines hotel in Kigali, who is a Hutu married to a Tutsi. He manages to save more than 1,200 Tutsi and moderate Hutus refugees by offering them sanctuary at the hotel. He uses charm, wit and sheer brains --- and bribery --- to ensure the safety of these people, who include his family. His sheer tenacity and single-minded commitment to his cause will keep you riveted to the story. This is an everyman who took on a huge challenge --- and won.

There is a book from Newmarket Press coming in February that is a companion to the book called HOTEL RWANDA: Bringing the True Story of an African Hero to Film. Last night as I left the theatre I found myself standing under a street lamp in the rain reading the book's opener, which was penned by the film's director, Terry George. What had not been made clear to me in the movie is that Rusesabagina's campaign was not a one or two week effort; it was sustained over more than three months. It made what I had just witnessed even more stunning.

I confess to knowing little, if anything about this conflict. It made me realize how ignorant I can be of what is going on in the much larger world that surrounds me. Two years ago on his birthday I took my son on a tour of the UN. I recall stopping and looking at a map of the world where they had marked all the places in the world where the UN had a presence. I remember seeing Rwanda marked on the map. Seeing this film I have a whole new take on what the words UN Peacekeeping force actually mean.

I urge you to see this film. And to read the accompanying book to fill in the backstory, to see more about the people who were inspired to make this film and to read more about where Rwanda is today.