ME and Ophelia

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The true story of Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda, tipped as movie of the year, is due to be released tomorrow. This not-to-be-missed film is a true story that finds hope amid the horrors of tribal genocide. It stars Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix and provides a good insight into what has been happening in Darfur, Sudan over the past 22 months. Although the film was directed by Briton Terry George, who also co-authored the with Keir Pearson, there appears to be no release date for the UK. I can only hope it comes out on DVD so I can watch it on my PowerBook.

Jim Moore has produced a list of cinemas showing the film at 23 cities in the US and Canada and says it is a must-see film experience.

The following is a copy in full of a review written by Jean Oppenheimer at River Front Times, Jan 12, 2005:

Over a three-month period in 1994, machete-wielding Hutu tribesmen in Rwanda hacked to death 800,000 Tutsi men, women and children. News reports, including film footage of the unfolding carnage, were broadcast around the globe. In the face of such unremitting acts of inhumanity, the world community did nothing.

It wasn't the first time society had turned a blind eye to genocide, of course. Fifty years earlier, six million Jews were "exterminated" by the Nazis. When the war ended, a contrite family of nations vowed "never again." Yet 30 years later the world stood by while the Khmer Rouge swept across Cambodia, systematically slaughtering 1.7 million people. Then came Rwanda, followed by the "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. Today it's Sudan, where government-backed Arab militias in the Darfur region seem determined to annihilate the country's black population. So much for "never again."

Hotel Rwanda, the true story of a soft-spoken Hutu hotel manager who risked his own life to save 1,200 Tutsis, may be the most important film released in the past year. Among the class of 2004, it is certainly one of the best. And much of its value comes from the fact that it is targeted at a mainstream audience.

Crass as it may sound, the movie is viewer-friendly. It's in English, with recognizable American actors in lead roles -- Don Cheadle and Nick Nolte chief among them. It lays out its horrific story in a way that is easy for Western audiences to follow. And, while the filmmakers imply much violence and show hundreds of bodies strewn along the road, the actual amount of blood seen on-screen is minimal. Corpses are not visibly mutilated (as they were in real life), and the terror lies more in what viewers know to be happening than in what they actually see.

Paul Rusesabagina (Cheadle) is the house manager at Milles Collines, a Belgian-owned luxury hotel in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. A Hutu, he is married to Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), who is Tutsi. Historical tensions have long divided the two tribes. Recently there have been rumors circulating that the Hutus, who make up the majority of the population, are planning an uprising against the ruling Tutsis. Paul refuses to believe it.

When the attack does come, the Hutus spare no one. In a barbaric 100-day rampage, they slaughter 800,000 of their countrymen. A contingent of United Nations peacekeeping forces is already stationed in Rwanda, but the Security Council forbids the troops from intervening to stop the bloodshed.

Hundreds of terrified Tutsis seek refuge in Milles Collines, where Paul has been left in charge by his European bosses who, being white, have been airlifted out of the country. Eventually, some 1,200 traumatized Tutsis and moderate Hutus fill the hotel. Paul houses them, feeds them and repeatedly puts his own life in danger by offering bribes to Hutu rebel leaders to leave the refugees alone. But as Paul's supply of money and liquor dwindles, so does his ability to negotiate for lives.

Cheadle, always a fine actor, is outstanding here -- an almost willfully naive yet uncommonly decent man who sees civilization crashing and burning around him yet who, almost against his own better judgment, refuses to give in to it. One of the most interesting aspects of Paul's character development is how he slowly begins to realize not only the magnitude of the unfolding tragedy, but also that the world community has abandoned the Rwandans to their fate.

"You don't honestly believe that you can kill them all," he asks a Hutu rebel leader, almost rhetorically. "And why not?" replies the stone-faced man. Paul's faith in the United Nations is shattered first by an American journalist (Joaquin Phoenix) and then by the head of U.N. forces in the region (Nolte), both of whom bitterly explain that the West plans to do nothing to stop the violence.

Paul realizes that for years he has deluded himself into believing that by serving management loyally and by catering to the whims of the rich and politically powerful, both black and white, that he has earned their appreciation, respect and protection. He is equally disheartened to discover that the hotel's black employees refuse to accept him as their boss without a letter from the head of the Belgian parent company.

British director Terry George wisely eschews fancy camerawork or editing, allowing the horror and confusion of the real-life events to speak for themselves. And in Cheadle he has found the perfect actor to convey an ordinary man who, trapped inside a waking nightmare, must rely on his own wits and willpower to keep his family safe -- and in so doing, save hundreds of families.
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Hotel Rwanda official website

Please turn on your sound on and view the movie's stills and trailer at Hotel Rwanda official website.

The Message Board at the website poses some questions - here are two:
(1) "Why did the US and other countries stand by?" - it received the most comments: 46.
(2) "What can we DO?" received the least number of comments: 4.
I am not sure what that means, but it says something. I can only guess people believe they are powerless in the face of genocide but feel strongly that their government should intervene with help to stop the killing.

Also, note these two insightful comments posted at the message board:
Dec 10: This a quote from an american ambassador I think pretty much somes up what you all have been saying "The lives of 80 000 Rwandans are worth the life of one American soldier." And this was said directly to Dallaire. 
Dec 2: the humans are still an unevolved species. it will take many many years before we come to grips with our primitive instincts.
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Candlelight vigil for Darfur Sudan

Last month, law student John Fitzgerald in New York attended a candlelight vigil for Darfur in the city and kindly wrote a post to share with us.

Yesterday, John emailed to say he would be attending the next vigil in New York, this coming Monday, and will ensure his camera works this time to take photos for posting here. John's bar exam is next month, here's wishing him all the best.

Chris at Explanada provides details of the vigil to be held 5.00 pm Monday at Dag Hammarskjold Park, UN Plaza.

All of us, anywhere in the world, can light a candle on Monday at 5.00 pm NYT time in memory of the two million Sudanese who have lost their lives, and stand in solidarity with the four million victims of rape, slavery, and displacement. Give meaning to "Never Again."

Displaced people wait to receive food supplies from the UN World Food Program in Kalma Camp, near Nyala town in Sudan's southern Darfur region. (AFP/File/Jose Cendon) Jan 11, 2005.
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Mainstream media, visual images, websites and weblogs helping to stop genocide

American blogger Bill, aka Black River Eagle, writes a great piece highlighting Jim's post on PBS's "The Quick and The Terrible."

For further reading on the BBC documentary that Bill also writes about, see my earlier post reviewing the BBC's "New Killing Fields."

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 1/13/2005
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