"Hotel Rwanda" opens doors for special screening by UNHCR, United Artists
NEW YORK, Nov 17 (UNHCR) - When the world closed its eyes to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina opened his arms to its victims. Ten years later, an award-winning film is celebrating the courage of the man who saved more than 1,000 of his compatriots by hiding them in his hotel during the violence.
"Hotel Rwanda" opened its doors to a 600-strong private audience on Sunday evening. The special screening in downtown Manhattan's Clearview Beekman Theatre was organised by UNHCR, the filmmakers and United Artists. Hosted by the film's writer-director-producer Terry George, lead actor Don Cheadle and movie score producer and musician Wyclef Jean, the event was attended by UN and diplomatic dignitaries as well as celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Willem Dafoe, Michael Moore, Daniel Day Lewis and Salman Rushdie.
UNHCR's Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin introduced the film by urging everyone in the audience not only to be moved and touched by it, but also to recognise that similar atrocities and human suffering are occurring today in the Darfur region of western Sudan. She also thanked George and United Artists for making this important film and for their support to UNHCR and refugees.
An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days of genocide that started in April 1994. More than 2 million fled into neighbouring countries, while many others were displaced within Rwanda.
Using this as a backdrop, "Hotel Rwanda" tells the real story of Paul Rusesabagina, the Hutu manager of Milles Collines Hotel in Rwanda during the genocide, who hid and saved 1,268 Tutsis and moderate Hutus from being killed. Without shying away from the horrors and tragedy of the genocide, the film focuses on the story of this brave man who refused to give up his humanity and convictions, even at a time when chaos and fear paralysed the world around him. Rusesabagina was not interested in politics or power, but faced with the tragic violence of the genocide, he made difficult choices that put himself and his family in danger to save strangers, orphans and refugees brought to his four-star hotel.
The film stars Cheadle (best known for his roles in "Traffic" and "Ocean's Eleven"), who portrays Rusesabagina with great compassion. The actor has been quoted in interviews as saying this film has opened his eyes about the genocide and humanitarian issues, particularly as all the extras in the film were themselves Rwandan and Burundian refugees who shared many of their own stories with him on the set of the film. "Hotel Rwanda" also features Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix.
The film, which recently won the top honours at both the Toronto Film Festival and the American Film Institute Film Festival, is touted to be an Oscar contender in several categories. Filmmaker George (who received a previous Oscar nomination for "In the Name of the Father") has shown tremendous support for UNHCR and refugee issues. Speaking after Sunday's screening, he urged everyone in the audience to get behind UNHCR's efforts by visiting the agency's website and supporting refugee assistance worldwide.
George also treated the audience to a special surprise at the end of the screening by bringing Paul Rusesabagina himself on stage to join the stars of "Hotel Rwanda". The audience was so moved by the film that they jumped to their feet to give Rusesabagina a standing ovation that lasted some five minutes. The evening concluded with a reception at the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art co-hosted by UNHCR and United Artists.