Ten years ago some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind took place in the country of Rwanda--and in an era of high-speed communication and round the clock news, the events went almost unnoticed by the rest of the world. In only three months, one million people were brutally murdered. In the face of these unspeakable actions, inspired by his love for his family, an ordinary man summons extraordinary courage to save the lives of over a thousand helpless refugees, by granting them shelter in the hotel he manages.
 

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A strong political message that all need to hear

Hotel Rwanda is an impassioned film about a real life hero. It is based on the extraordinary story of Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan hotel manager who transformed his 5 star hotel into a refuge for Tutsi's during the brutal Hutu uprising in 1994 where over 800 000 people were slaughtered in just under 100 days. While world leaders refused to acknowledge the genocide and thus send help, those trapped in the slaughter watched in disbelief. It's a film that director and co-writer Terry George thought he would never get made, having been told time and time again that Hollywood has almost no interest in African stories because they are a financial liability.

Black is not beautiful in Hollywood it seems. But make the film George did when his producers Alex Ho and Hal Sadoff managed to cobble together a precarious international financial deal after months of touch-and-go negotiations. Subsequently Hotel Rwanda has won the Peoples' Choice Award at last year's Toronto Film Festival, was in the official competition at the recent 55th International Berlinale and also scored three major nominations at this year's upcoming Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights, Out Of Sight) who once again manages to find the emotional core of every scene he is in playing Paul Rusesabagina. It is a demanding role, Cheadle is in every scene, but one this immensely talented actor more than handled.

Hotel Rwanda is unique. Without being didactic it has a strong political message, one we all need to hear. Each frame resonates with the urgent questions: at what price a human life? And does the colour of one's skin dictate whose life is of more value? Yet at the same time, while pointing a very angry finger squarely at the Western world, Hotel Rwanda is also a remarkably gentle and powerful emotional drama. And it has been a little while since I've seen such barbed political material told with such nuance, perhaps the last was Polanski's The Pianist (2002). While the story's initial set up feels a little clunky and overstated, Hotel Rwanda rapidly becomes a compelling yet straightforward film. Don Cheadle's is matched by some other great performances, including Sophie Okonedo (Dirty Pretty Things) as Tatiana, Paul's wife, Joaquin Phoenix (Clay Pigeons) as a stunned American TV cameraman, and Nick Nolte (Cape Fear) playing a totally compromised UN officer, and the rest of the huge African cast.

Hotel Rwanda is certainly not a feel good movie. While it encourages us to be empathetic it also encourages us all to feel blanket shame. In this case, that is a good thing. Sometimes it takes a movie to remind us just how complacent we really are.

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