News for 2/21/2005

The following article appeared in the January 24, 2005 issue of People Magazine

News for 1/16/2005

The following article appeared in the December 2004/January 2005 issue of Premiere Magazine


Rwanda Savior, Subject of Movie, Says He No Hero

By Mike Collett-White

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - He saved over 1,000 people from the horror of genocide, has been dubbed "Rwanda's Schindler" and is the subject of a Hollywood movie on the 1994 bloodshed.

But Rwandan Paul Rusesabagina does not think of himself as a hero.

"I wouldn't take myself as a hero," the softly-spoken 50-year-old told Reuters in an interview.

"I rather take myself as someone who did his duties and responsibilities, someone who remained until the end when others changed completely their professions, and most of them became killers and others were killed."

Ten years after Rwanda descended into chaos, during which 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered in just 100 days, the genocide is back in the headlines after the release of a new film.

"Hotel Rwanda," starring Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina and Nick Nolte as a U.N. commander, centers around the Mille Collines hotel in Kigali, the country's leading hotel.

Rusesabagina was just a stand-in manager there, but used his cunning and military contacts to provide a haven for 1,268 people, most of whom had fled their homes and arrived at the hotel as "guests."

He rationed water from the swimming pool, had checkpoints removed, bribed killers with money and scotch and kept a secret telephone line open to the outside world.

He was driven by a desire to save his Tutsi wife and their four children and by his commitment to the hotel's occupants -- none of whom were killed during the genocide.

The plot calls to mind the movie "Schindler's List," which told of the German factory owner Oskar Schindler's sheltering of Jews from the Holocaust.

"I wanted to keep my people, the refugees safe," Rusesabagina said. "That was my main objective and I tried to keep that up to the end through my contacts, because I knew many high-ranking generals ... I knew many people in the government."

He recalled how, on his way to another Kigali hotel, soldiers handed him a rifle and ordered him to kill his family and 26 other "cockroaches" traveling with him in a packed van. "All over the streets you could see many dead bodies ... and near us we were seeing dead bodies."

Eventually he drove with the soldiers to the hotel and handed them the contents of his office safe.


Rusesabagina, now a businessman in Brussels, is still bitter at the international community's failure to prevent the genocide.

The United Nations has accepted blame for failing to stop the slaughter by machete-wielding Hutu extremists and their followers, and the Canadian head of a U.N. force in Kigali was driven to the brink of suicide by what he experienced.

Romeo Dallaire, now retired, had a force of around 2,500 in Rwanda but most were withdrawn after the massacre began and following the deaths of 10 Belgian peacekeepers.

"All Rwandans told us it would have been better if the United Nations did not come at all than coming and pulling out," said Rusesabagina.

"You know people wanted to go to Burundi, for instance. Many people were trying to go out. But when we saw the United Nations coming in we were sure that peace was coming slowly."

He said U.N. peacekeepers were guarding thousands of vulnerable civilians when they were evacuated, leaving many of them facing almost certain death.

"'Hotel Rwanda' is kind of a wake up call to the international community. Look, this happened. You were informed. You turned your back ... did not want to see and listen and at the end this was recognized as genocide.

"It is even now happening in Darfur," Rusesabagina added, referring to the region of western Sudan where tens of thousands of people have died and where the United States says genocide has been committed.

Like Cheadle who plays him in the film, Rusesabagina is preparing for a publicity blitz for the movie, which has been nominated for Golden Globe awards and could be in the running at the Oscars.

He defended the decision by director Terry George to focus on events in the Milles Collines hotel rather than the savagery of the genocide itself.

"Noone would like to go and sit in the theater and watch that for two hours because it was so horrible. It has to be a little bit light for the people to get the message."


'Hotel Rwanda' Innkeeper Feeling Better

AP Entertainment Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Paul Rusesabagina still has sleepless nights. And when he does nod off, he still has nightmares. Witnessing wholesale slaughter and narrowly eluding death remains fresh for the hotel manager who saved 1,268 people during Rwanda's genocide a decade ago.

For a long time, he was bitter. Somehow, though, the movie "Hotel Rwanda" has helped him allay some of that pain _ which stemmed from the world ignoring the hellish situation.

"Whenever I talk about the genocide, whenever I will see the movie, I see it as if it was happening yesterday, or today in the morning," says Rusesabagina, 50, who now runs a heavy-duty transport business in Zambia.

His family lives in Belgium, where he visits often. A cement bond exists among him, his wife and four children, he says, because they all feel there's almost nothing they can go through now that could top what they've already endured. They can always tell each other: "We have shared worse."

Don Cheadle, who plays Rusesabagina, told The Associated Press he thought he'd find a much more tragic figure.

"I expected to find somebody who was really haunted and really shell-shocked in a way. Because the stories I had read and the tapes I had seen and the accountings I had heard were horrific, and I just couldn't imagine myself, what I would be like, if I had experienced and witnessed all of that," says the actor, who's received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Rusesabagina.

"But meeting him and spending time with him and having dinner with him and getting drunk with him and just hanging out with him in that way, it made perfect sense once I got to know him.

"Paul sees every day since he got away from there as a bonus. Every day is like, `I'm alive!' ... Every day he thought he was going to die. He woke up with that thought every day, like: `I wonder how I'm going to die today. I wonder where it's going to happen in the hotel. I wonder what it's going to be with. Am I going to get shot? Is it gonna be a machete? Is somebody going to throw me off the roof?'"

"That was my day-to-day life," Rusesabagina corroborated in a separate interview with the AP.

The movie has a few scenes where it appears Rusesabagina is going to be killed. Rwanda's Hutu extremists were massacring Tutsis (and moderate Hutus), and they were livid that he was sheltering people they wanted to slaughter. (In 100 days, hundreds of thousands were slain.)

In one instance he escaped simply by pointing soldiers who asked about the hotel manager's whereabouts in one direction while walking in another. In other instances, he finagles his way out of death by buying off soldiers with jewels or a general with Cohibas and single-malt scotch.

The movie depicts Rusesabagina as a man who had no intention of becoming a modern African version of Oskar Schindler. Early on, he tells wife Tatiana (played by Sophie Okonedo) who wants to help someone: "He's not family. Family is all that matters."

As the nationwide murderous rage spirals out of control, Rusesabagina transforms. By the end, the innkeeper's attitude is: "There's always room."

For that reason, Cheadle thinks the movie is "ultimately uplifting."

"It's a love story in the middle of a thriller, to put it in movie terms," he says, hoping that people don't just look at it as a movie about mass murder and go: "`Oh, God, this is going to be a downer ...' I hope everyone who does a report about this movie reports that it's not ... it's not a bloodfest."

It's so relatively unbloody that some critics have complained that "Hotel Rwanda," which is up for a best dramatic film Golden Globe, downplays the colossal carnage.

Director/screenwriter Terry George has an answer for that: "Documentary is sort of the wine of storytelling, and nonfiction feature film is the brandy, is the distillation of those events into something that's potent."

The Rwandan strife in 1994 made the briefs packages in newspapers or got short mention at the end of newscasts. (A Time magazine cover story and a front-page Los Angeles Times article were notable exceptions.)

Where it happened and to whom _ in other words, blacks in Africa _ is offered as the biggest reason.

"I don't think there's any question," Cheadle says, addressing the issue of race. "I mean, if it was whites ... there would have been much more of a drive" to do something.

George, who directed the 1996 feature "Some Mother's Son" and co-wrote the Jim Sheridan films "In the Name of the Father" and "The Boxer," agrees.

"For me, there's a subliminal, subconscious racism that we have in the West that does not equate the value of African life with a Western life," he says.

And you can even quantify it, he maintains. The death of 18 U.S. soldiers were more important than nearly a million Africans, he says, alluding to how the United States has been reluctant to send a peace mission to Africa ever since 1993, when 18 American troops were killed by Somali fighters.

Intervention would have been easy, he avers, saying the "raggle-taggle army" wielding nothing more than clubs, machetes and knives could have been routed.

President Clinton and the United Nations subsequently apologized for failing to intervene. And Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general whose U.N. peacekeepers had to stand by helplessly as events unfolded, went into a suicidal depression. (A composite character based on Dailliare is played by Nick Nolte, in a smartly subdued supporting performance.)

Rwanda _ a landlocked former Belgian colony with 8 million people _ has kept a relative peace, though internally the Hutus and the Tutsis remain wary of each other and externally the country continues to clash with neighboring Congo.

Rusesabagina has his doubts about just how real and lasting the peace is.

"There is no better place to live than Rwanda," he says. "That is my home."

He visited last year. But will he live there again? "I'm not really in a hurry."