Thoughts on: Hotel Rwanda

9 May 2014 | ResolutionPossible

220px-Hotel_Rwanda_movieThe first film we picked to explore as part of ResPoss Culture Club was Hotel Rwanda. It is no coincidence that this is the film of choice, as we are witnessing numerous 20 year anniversary commemorations of the violence of 1994, depicted in this film. We asked you to watch the film and share with us your thoughts. Your responses were brilliant, and we want to share them with you here.

The main problem with Hotel Rwanda is a lack of complexity or historical context- essential to understanding the genocide. Director Terry George provides short, vague snippets of the socio-politico context of the genocide between suspenseful scenes of Paul Rusesabagina’s many attempts to stop the Hutu interahamwe from gaining access to the Hotel Des Mille Collines, but the fact that the historical context of the genocide is explained in this way feels clunky and seems unimportant and easily forgettable compared to the action we’re viewing on screen.

The publicity for Hotel Rwanda states that it is ‘a true story.’ Whilst there is no doubt in factual terms that this is the case (indeed the real Paul Rusesabagina was involved from the very start in the making of the film) it is not a day by day account of what happened during the three month period of the Genocide. It is a representation of what took place, featuring events chosen by filmmaker Terry George in collaboration with Paul and the scriptwriters. Decisions are then made as to how to film these events – what exactly to show, where to put the camera so as to present the audience with a certain viewpoint, what sound to include or add to create a certain atmosphere and so forth.

There were also numerous liberties taken with the portrayal of some of the film’s characters. A bitter row has erupted between Rusesabagina and his critics, including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who say he is profiting from the victims’ misery and rewriting Rwanda’s history for his own gain. There have also been claims that the real Rusesabagina accepted bribes from wealthier Tutsis for refuge in the Hotel and indeed there is evidence that all the cheques Rusesabagina received were subsequently cashed in Gitarama where the interim government had set up camp. Others have also spoken out against the portrayal of certain characters in the film. Pasa Mwenenganucye was a receptionist at the Milles Collines during the time of the Genocide, and is portrayed in the film as Gregoire, a hedonistic Hutu worker who occupies the presidential suite and sips champagne as killings escalate. Mwenenganucye was furious at the way he was portrayed, claiming that he was turned into a “bad guy” simply to make the film more dramatic. Senator Romeo Dallaire, who was the Canadian head of the UN Peacekeeping forces at the time has also slammed the film as “revisionist junk” stating “I think the only value of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ is the fact that it keeps the Rwandan genocide alive, but as far as content, it’s Hollywood,”

Ultimately, Hotel Rwanda succeeds as a compelling Hollywood drama but fails as accurate and balanced dialogue on the events of 1994 Rwanda. As a Hollywood film, it reaches millions of people who will arguably view the film as their historical source of record on this genocide. This should not read as a criticism of Hotel Rwanda (which is by all accounts an excellent character drama) but more a criticism of the lack of variety of films about the Rwandan Genocide. A good balance to Hotel Rwanda is the film “Sometimes in April” which centres around the colonial history of Rwanda giving us a more nuanced understanding of the build up to the Genocide.

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