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Hotel Rwanda

October 22, 2015

HRThe powerful true story of an African hotelier and Hutu who gave refuge to 1,200 Tutsi refugees during the 1994 genocide.

It is not true that nobody on the Western world cares about Rwanda. When I was in Sunday School I had a charity box – albeit a mud hut (!). Later, I sponsored a girl through one of those penpal schemes and later lost touch and it was presumed that she had been killed in her classroom. The girl and her story haunts me.

Like most ‘saints’, Paul was not a particularly likeable character as far as I am concerned, as he sucked up to the right white men – like Oskar Schindler – but he stepped up to the plate and became a hero.

He is unlike the Roman Catholic priest who dumps his orphanage kids at the hotel and then legs it out of the country – a captain deserting his sinking ship, unlike Paul, the hero.

There’s a kind of last supper scene.

Rwanda is a ‘Christian country’ yet it didn’t stop the two trinbes being at war.

Whiskey is ‘the water of life’

Themes: betrayal, the consequences of history, courage and leadership.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Two recurrent themes jump out at me from the movie Hotel Rwanda. First, that everything has a price. Paul Rusesabagina pays for his family’s and neighbors’ freedom and life by bribing an army officer, even negotiating the price for each. He is able to purchase beer and scotch for the hotel from the distributor, as long as he is willing to pay the price demanded. He consistently bribes the army general for protection for the hotel’s occupants from the armed militia. And when the bribes run out, so does the protection.

The second major theme is one of self-reliance, or absence of external help. Throughout the movie it is repeated that the “West” refuses to help or does not value the Rwandans enough to intervene in the genocide. The West’s refusal to intervene is seen when the UN peacekeeping force has orders to not use their weapons. It’s seen in the size of the UN peacekeeping force, reduced to 260 men at the beginning of the genocide and civil war in 1994. In the movie this last reduction proved a false hope for the survivors holed up in the hotel. UN ‘reinforcements’ arrive, only to evacuate many UN peacekeepers and foreign citizens from Rwanda and the hotel, respectively. There is also an episode where certain Rwandans who have foreign connections are granted visas to leave the country because of the intervention of their friends (mostly from African nations). The contrast of this action to the West’s non-intervention is stark. “Who you know” becomes a factor in survival. The distributor where Paul purchases supplies is a member of the Hutu militia. But because he knows him and has had a business relationship with him for years, he’s able (at a price) to still secure supplies for the hotel residents.

Both of these themes meet together in the Bible in a very different way. Paul Rusesabagina is a sort of messiah character who pays for the redemption of the residents of the hotel.

On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down over the airport at Kigali. This triggered massive civil unrest between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi people. It is usually estimated that more than 800,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, were murdered in the following three months – a number almost equivalent to the entire British and colonial military death toll for the whole of the first world war.

Paul Rusesabagina is the kind of hotel manager who knows how to keep all the local generals sweet with Cohiba cigars and Glenmorangie whisky. Gradually, tension builds outside the Hotel des Mille Collines’ smoothly whitewashed walls – until the president’s plane is shot down, and the whole country seems to go off like a bomb.

Paul gets his family and friends into the hotel by bribing a local general. The United Nations, represented by the fictional Colonel Oliver: “We’re here as peacekeepers, not as peacemakers,” as children are hacked to death with machetes all around him. Somewhat unfairly, Oliver is based on real-life Canadian UN General Roméo Dallaire. The UN has been criticised for its failure to respond effectively to the genocide in Rwanda, but Dallaire was not to blame – in fact, most reports indicate he did everything he could.

Western journalists aren’t much better than western soldiers, in Hotel Rwanda’s view. “We’re not leaving the hotel grounds unless we have an armoured car,” the chief reporter tells cameraman Jack. “That’s the ground rules.” Disgusted, Jack replies: “The ground rules? Where do you think we are, fucking Wimbledon?” The film is sharply critical of the international community for failing to take action. “How can they not intervene?” Paul asks Jack. “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say ‘oh my goodness, that’s horrible’,” says Jack, “and then go on eating their dinners”. Historically speaking, though it may make some people uncomfortable, Hotel Rwanda’s critical view is supportable. The UN itself accepted that it had failed in Rwanda back in 1999, five years after the genocide, and repeated its admission for the 20th anniversary this year.

In the Guardian review: Hotel Rwanda runs into greater controversy as its depiction of Rusesabagina approaches the saintly. It suggests Rusesabagina provided the hotel’s services on a charitable basis and only issued bills to keep up the pretense of being a legitimate business rather than a refuge – but some survivors have alleged that he extorted money from them, or that he refused to let some people in who did not have means, or that he forced them to vacate their rooms if they couldn’t pay. Hotel Rwanda’s director, Terry George, responded angrily to these allegations, accusing Rusesabagina’s critics of running a “smear campaign”. Making measured judgments on traumatic and highly politicised events like those of the Rwandan genocide is the most difficult parts of any historian’s job. There are always wildly different opinions and enormous contradictions in the evidence. It’s hard for any outsider to know what really went on in the Hotel des Mille Collines, but historically-minded viewers would do well to remember that the film’s version of the story is only one version – and it is disputed.

At the end of the film, Paul and his wife Tatiana are evacuated by the UN to a well-organised refugee camp at Kabuga. Here the film diverges from Rusesabagina’s own version of the story as told in his memoir, An Ordinary Man. The real Rusesabaginas were transported by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, not by the UN. Kabuga, he wrote, “was no camp in the conventional sense. It was a looting zone … I, too, was among those who had to forage for food.” It is true, as the film shows, that the Rusesabaginas were reunited with their two infant nieces in Kabuga, but they were not so well-looked-after as they appear to be in the film. “Both of the children were covered in dirt and appeared to be starving and barely alive,” Rusesabagina wrote. “They had been living for months on ground-up chicken feed.” Kabuga was run like a prison, he wrote: “Weeping filled the air.” It’s easy to see why the film has altered the truth – the sense of security and order returning allows it to create a happy ending. In real life, unfortunately, happy endings are harder to come by.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables): “We see so many ‘heroes’ depicted in the movies that when a real one comes along, the accolades usually used to describe them seem insufficient. Don Cheadle does an extraordinary job portraying this ordinary man caught in maelstrom of hate and violence. There are no larger-than-life heroics going on here … just a good man willing to put himself on the line to prevent evil from having free rein. We should be grateful to writer/director Terry George for telling his story so well.”

Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk): “A film of great moral and cinematic value, Hotel Rwanda is a sobering reminder of just how important it is for those who have power—whether financial, physical or moral—to intervene, when great evil is taking place. If we do not, then who will? And then who will be there for us, when it is our turn?”

Seeing her neighbours lying dead in their yards, Tatiana blurts out what feels like a prayer: “Oh Jesus, no!” Paul tells his wife that he thanks God every day for the time they’ve had together.

“Once people see the footage, surely there will be help!” exclaims Paul after Jack (a journalist desperate to get images out to the rest of the world) shoots video of women and children being viciously cut down. Jack grimly responds, “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my god, how horrible,’ and they’ll go on eating their dinners.” Now, director Terry George wants us to remember what happened during those dark days in Rwanda with a clarity and emotional connection that we didn’t have before. And he wants us to do something about it.

“Ten years on, politicians from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Rwanda to ask for forgiveness from the survivors, and once more the same politicians promise ‘never again,'” George says. “But it’s happening yet again in Sudan, or the Congo, or some godforsaken place where life is worth less than dirt. Places where men and women like Paul and Tatiana shame us all by their decency and bravery. … I knew if we got this story right and got it made, it would have audiences from Peoria to Pretoria cheering for a real African hero who fought to save lives in a hell we would not dare to invent.”

Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.

Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?

Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?

Jack: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners. [pause] What the hell do I know?

Colonel Oliver: [explaining why the world will not intervene] You’re black. You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.

Pat Archer: [relating the last words of the orphan slain by the Hutus] Please don’t let them kill me. I… I promise I won’t be Tutsi anymore.

[last lines] Pat Archer: [walking with family towards bus] They said that there wasn’t any room.

Paul Rusesabagina: There’s always room.

Paul Rusesabagina: Hundreds, there were too many to count.

Dube: “Why are people so cruel?

Paul Rusesabagina: Hatred… Insanity… I don’t know…

Paul Rusesabagina: There will be no rescue, no intervention for us. We can only save ourselves. Many of you know influential people abroad, you must call these people. You must tell them what will happen to us… say goodbye. But when you say goodbye, say it as if you are reaching through the phone and holding their hand. Let them know that if they let go of that hand, you will die. We must shame them into sending help.

Jack: [after seeing a Tutsi and a Hutu sitting together] They could be twins!

Paul Rusesabagina: They told me I was one of them, and I… the wine, chocolates, cigars, style… I swallowed it. I swallowed it, I swallowed all of it. And they handed me their shit. I have no… no history. I have no memory. I’m a fool, Tati.

Tatiana Rusesabagina: You are no fool. I know who you are.

[end title cards] Paul Rusesabagina sheltered 1268 Tutsi and Hutu refugees at the Milles Collines Hotel in Kigali. Paul and Tatiana now live in Belgium with their children, Roger, Diane, Lys, Tresor and their adopted nieces Anais and Carine. Tatiana’s brother Thomas and his wife Fedens were never found. In 2002, General Augustin Bizimungu was captured in Angola and transported to the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal in Tanzania. At the same tribunal the Interhamwe leader George Rutuganda was sentenced to life in prison. The genocide ended in July 1994, when the Tutsi rebels drove the Hutu army and the Interhamwe militia across the border into the Congo. They left behind almost a million corpses.

Paul Rusesabagina: [Paul finds his family hiding in a bathtub. They panic, and Tantiana brandishes the moveable showerhead like a gun] No, no! It’s me! [they all hug and exchange soothing words, he picks up the showerhead] What were you going to do with this?

Tatiana Rusesabagina: [shaking her head, laughing] I don’t know. [they all laugh, relieved]

[first lines] George Rutaganda: [voiceover] When people ask me, good listeners, why do I hate all the Tutsi, I say, “Read our history.” The Tutsi were collaborators for the Belgian colonists, they stole our Hutu land, they whipped us. Now they have come back, these Tutsi rebels. They are cockroaches. They are murderers. Rwanda is our Hutu land. We are the majority. They are a minority of traitors and invaders. We will squash the infestation. We will wipe out the RPF rebels. This is RTLM, Hutu power radio. Stay alert. Watch your neighbours.

Paul Rusesabagina: General, these are difficult times, we need to help one another.

General Bizimungu: And what help can I get from you, Paul?

Paul Rusesabagina: You are a marked man, sir!

General Bizimungu: How so?

Paul Rusesabagina: You’re on a list, the Americans have you on a list as a war criminal!

General Bizimungu: Paul, I am sick and tired of your lies.

Paul Rusesabagina: Are you stupid General? How do you think these people operate? You sit here with five stars on your chest! Who do you think they’re coming after? [pause] Fine, we will go to Gitzarama and you will stay on that list.

General Bizimungu: I committed no war crimes.

Paul Rusesabagina: Who will tell them? You need me to tell them how you helped at the hotel. They blame you for all their misfortunes. They say you lead the massacres!

General Bizimungu: I lead no massacres!

Paul Rusesabagina: Do you think they will believe you?

General Bizimungu: You will tell them the truth!

Paul Rusesabagina: I will tell them nothing unless you help me! [General Bizimungu reaches for his gun] What- what are you going to do… shoot me? Shoot me. Please shoot me. It would be a blessing. I will pay you to shoot my family. You can not hurt me.

General Bizimungu: You will tell them I did nothing!

Paul Rusesabagina: We are leaving. Right now.

[about the Tutsi] Paul Rusesabagina: You cannot seriously think that you can kill them all.

George Rutaganda: And why not? We are halfway there already.

Jack: [walking towards the bus carrying all the whites who are leaving Rwanda while the blacks are left behind] Oh, God, I’m so ashamed!

Paul Rusesabagina: All day long I work to please this officer, that diplomat, some tourist to store up favors so if there is a time when we need help I have powerful people I can call upon.

Tatiana Rusesabagina: But Victor was a good neighbor.

Paul Rusesabagina: He is not family. Family is all that matters.

George Rutaganda: Cut the tall trees. Cut the tall trees now!

Dube: Aah, that is a fine cigar, sir!

Paul Rusesabagina: This is a Cohiba cigar. Each one is worth 10,000 francs.

Dube: 10,000 francs?

Paul Rusesabagina: Yes, yes. But it is worth more to me than 10,000 francs.

Dube: What do you mean, sir?

Paul Rusesabagina: If I give a businessman 10,000 francs, what does that matter to him? He is rich. But, if I give him a Cohiba cigar straight from Havana, Cuba. Hey, that is style, Dube.

Dube: [smiles] Style!

Colonel Oliver: We’re here as peace keepers, not peace makers.

Colonel Oliver: [after telling Paul the West thinks his people are dirt] They’re not going to stay, Paul. They’re not going to stop the slaughter.

Tatiana Rusesabagina: [while watching a neighbour get beaten] Do something.

Paul Rusesabagina: Do what?

Tatiana Rusesabagina: Call someone.

Paul Rusesabagina: [after shutting the gate] There is nothing we can do.

Dube: [Dube, after running through the hotel lobby with a leaking cooler of lobster, quickly empties the cooler in a sink. Water, ice, and lobsters come gushing out into the sink and onto the surrounding counter. Some of the water, ice and one of the lobsters fall on the floor] Oh, Shit! Oh, sorry, sir.

Head Chef: Ten Alive, twelve are dead.

Paul Rusesabagina: All Right… But save the shells. Fill them with… a stuffing. The good meat and something local.

Head Chef: Cassava?

Paul Rusesabagina: And… the fish?

Head Chef: And tipali?

Paul Rusesabagina: Yes, We’ll call it “Fresh Lobster in a Cassava and Tipali Crust.” Dube?

General Bizimungu: I commanded no massacres!

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