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Peter T Chattaway

Hotel Rwanda

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Anybody know what sort of release pattern this film is going to have? The IMDB says it will have a "limited" release December 22, but gives no indication of when it will go wider, and the DVD screener I got came with a letter which indicates that there will be screenings in New York and Los Angeles as late as January 15. The film has apparently been in screenings for the past three weeks already, and it was also shown at the Toronto festival back in September, so it's possible some people here may have seen it already.

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I haven't had a chance to watch my screener yet, but I see it earned a spot in the NBR's top ten of the year.

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Below Finding Neverland.

Not that that means anything.

But, OTOH, not that it means anything either, if you follow me.

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The undeniable similarities of this story to the story of Schindler's List will probably earn this film some criticism, but the significance of what Terry George and his cast have achieved far outweighs that unfortunate parallel. It'll take me a while to sort out the difference between the greatness of George's accomplishment in delivering to audiences the details of an event that the West like to pretend never happened, and the greatness of this film as art.

Whatever the case, Hotel Rwanda is one of this year's MUST-SEE film, featuring a powerful, nomination-deserving performance by Don Cheadle as the almost insanely courageous hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, and co-starring Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jean Reno.

It's the year's most terrifying horror film ... especially because it's all true. In fact, the film affected me more powerfully than Schindler's List, because where Spielberg's story moved all over the map to give us an appreciation of the scope of the Holocaust, Hotel Rwanda grounds us in the experience of one man as he slowly comes to realization of the magnitude of his neighbors' evil. In conversation after conversation, we're drawn to the edges of our seats, hanging on every word he says to his enemies, knowing that one slip could cost Rusesabagina and hundreds more their lives. Moreover, we're worried about his stock of bottles of Scotch, because we know how valuable it can be in negotiating with the enemy.

The film is also humiliating for a Westerner to watch, as we observe the Rwandans watching the news and listening to the radio while Western nations debate whether or not to intervene. I felt shame and grief as I realized how little I ever really understood about the difference between the word "Hutu" and the word "Tutsi."

Whereas Schindler's List concludes with a scene of emotional grandstanding, as if pulling out all the stops to earn Neeson his Oscar, Rwanda ends on what might seem a triviality of optimism, a glimmer of hope in the middle of overwhelming darkness. But considering the particularity of the story's focus on relationships, I was glad for it. I also appreciated the film's willingness to acknowledged that compassion is not something you can offer others simply. Compassion is complicated, leading to divided loyalties and difficult choices, between helping this person or this person. In illustrating this, Sophie Okonedo, playing Rusesabagina's wife, is especially effective.

It may not be the pinnacle of artistry, but it is one of the most powerful and signficant releases this year. We've been gnawing on the bones of World War Two year after year after year, as if the Nazis were the low point of human history and if we just revisit them often enough somehow it won't happen again. But genocide continues, with an immediacy that prompts us to skip over that page of the newspaper. Terry George is bringing our attention to more immediate horrors, in hopes of cultivating awareness and action. Sure, he's somewhat guilty of oversimplifying the conflict and of resorting to some cheap suspense-film tactics along the way. Even if we hope for a better film on the subject, we should still, perhaps only once, see his film.

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Haven't read your comments yet, Jeff, because I want to see the film "blind" -- um, that doesn't sound like quite the right metaphor, does it -- but one thing I'm curious about is how ready we critics ought to engage the film as "historical document", considering those revelations that have come up recently about the distortions in Schindler's List.

I'm going to guess that Cheadle's character comes across as at least somewhat heroic, and probably more heroic than Schindler (unless Cheadle also cheats on his wife, etc.). Does anyone know if there are any significant articles (or, heck, books even) that we should be checking out to see just how true-to-life Cheadle's interpretation of the character is?

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The film is based on We regret to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, a book by Philip Gourevitch, which is apparently far more in-depth and detailed.

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Dang. The Vancouver library has two copies of that book, but they're both listed as "Lost" or "Damaged".

Well, the library ALSO has two copies of the Japanese translation ...

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Finally watched my copy today, and it is good, indeed. Artistically it might be a bit closer to a movie-of-the-week than to, say, Schindler's List, but it's definitely powerful, and anchored in strong performances.

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: I felt shame and grief as I realized how little I ever really understood about the

: difference between the word "Hutu" and the word "Tutsi."

Really? I thought the film made the point pretty effectively that there really wasn't much of a difference at all, beyond an accident of Belgian colonial history.

: We've been gnawing on the bones of World War Two year after year after year,

: as if the Nazis were the low point of human history and if we just revisit them

: often enough somehow it won't happen again. But genocide continues, with an

: immediacy that prompts us to skip over that page of the newspaper.

I do find myself pondering the difference between this film, produced a mere ten years after the events it depicts (and at a time when many of its key protagonists are still alive), versus Schindler's List, which was produced a half-century after the events it depicted (and at a time when its main protagonist had long been dead).

- - -

Revisiting Rwanda's Horrors With an Ex-National Security Adviser

Anthony Lake . . . , the national security adviser in the Clinton administration, played a role in determining United States policy in Rwanda a decade ago, and he had agreed to attend the screening of a movie that, even before its release, is provoking uncomfortable memories of the collective failure by Western powers to confront an atrocity.

New York Times, December 20

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Very interesting New York Times article about how the film managed to get a PG-13 rating - despite being originally rated R.

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: I felt shame and grief as I realized how little I ever really understood about the

: difference between the word "Hutu" and the word "Tutsi."

Really?  I thought the film made the point pretty effectively that there really wasn't much of a difference at all, beyond an accident of Belgian colonial history.

I have a question about this after seeing the film today. To be sure, the film portrays the difference as the result of a near arbitrary classification by the Belgians. However, The US State Dept. report on Rwanda (which I found bouncing around the film's website) gives a much longer history of the division of Hutu and Tutsi's. It could have been mostly a past that was ignored before the Europeans did their thing.

Another link tells of Paul Rusesabagina saying he never knew there were Hutu and Tutsis until he was 19 in 1973 when the Tutsis were heading to neighboring countries as refugees. Pauls's father was Hutu, his mother Tutsi.

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The film is based on We regret to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, a book by Philip Gourevitch, which is apparently far more in-depth and detailed.

IMDB (and so I assume the credits) don't credit this. Is this considered an adapted or original screenplay (so I can suggest it for voting)?

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: Is this considered an adapted or original screenplay (so I can suggest it for voting)?

The 'For Your Consideration' DVD recommends it for "Best Original Screenplay".

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PTC:

Canada doesn't come out looking too good, either.  Nick Nolte plays Colonel Oliver, the Canuck in charge of the UN forces, and his naive toast to peace near the beginning allows Paul and others to lull themselves into thinking that everything will be okay. When it turns out the Western nations are not actually interested in saving the Africans, but only in evacuating their own people, the colonel is infuriated.

I was very affected by this film, which I saw yesterday. Today I picked up Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With The Devil. Do you think Oliver is based on Dallaire?

As for your comment that "Canada doesn't come out looking too good, either." The country doesn't get mentioned in dialogue at all, of course, so it's as blameworthy as the rest of the universe in this business - no denying that. But as far as the portrayal of Colonel Oliver is concerned, to my perception, he came off very well indeed. The early incident you cite is in keeping with his job in the midst of brokering a fragile peace between the Tutsis and Hutus. Does it contribute to Paul's denial? Perhaps, but unless you're remembering a specific detail that eludes me, Paul is very firmly established in denial of his own long before that, and it persists well after that. Neither his denial nor Oliver's tarnished them, to my perception. It humanized them. And once there was no more denial to be hidden behind, I found both men magnificently heroic, entirely within the bounds of very real humany limitations. (For the record, I didn't pick up on the fact that Oliver is meant to be a Canadian while watching the film, so my perception of the character wasn't shaped by some sort of nationalism.) And Nolte was exceptionally good in the role: well cast, well realized.

Potent film. And I'll certainly be making a case for Cheadle as a strong contender for Best Actor. Because his character isn't highly expressive, because he conceals so much, Cheadle's work doesn't have the flash of lots of attention-getting performances. Not to take away from the more obvious tour de force performances - many of them are exceptional as well - but in many ways, Cheadle's challenge here is the more demanding one. The depth and range of his emotions - as much as the character tried to mute them - was extraordinary, and he never overplayed, never missed the mark. I always sensed I could see him thinking, agonizing, strategizing - or being at a complete loss. An enormous accomplishment.

And I've got to look up more on the woman who played his wife. She seemed very familiar. Also a remarkable performance.

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Ron wrote

: Today I picked up Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With The Devil. Do you think

: Oliver is based on Dallaire?

That would be my hunch, yeah.

: But as far as the portrayal of Colonel Oliver is concerned, to my perception, he

: came off very well indeed. The early incident you cite is in keeping with his job in

: the midst of brokering a fragile peace between the Tutsis and Hutus.

As a person, sure, he comes off well enough. But as a soldier who is supposed to grasp the situation he has been sent to handle, and who naively expects peace just because the UN is around ... well, I think it does reflect our country's naivete on the international scene.

: For the record, I didn't pick up on the fact that Oliver is meant to be a Canadian

: while watching the film . . .

Isn't there a maple leaf on his uniform?

: Potent film. And I'll certainly be making a case for Cheadle as a strong contender

: for Best Actor. Because his character isn't highly expressive, because he

: conceals so much, Cheadle's work doesn't have the flash of lots of attention-

: getting performances. Not to take away from the more obvious tour de force

: performances - many of them are exceptional as well - but in many ways,

: Cheadle's challenge here is the more demanding one. The depth and range of his

: emotions - as much as the character tried to mute them - was extraordinary, and

: he never overplayed, never missed the mark. I always sensed I could see him

: thinking, agonizing, strategizing - or being at a complete loss.

Abso-bloody-lutely. One scene that sticks in my mind, in particular, is the scene where he is sort of pleading with the general and threatening him and calling his bluff all at the same time -- his desperation in that scene is riveting, compelling, realistic, etc. As you say, his performance has depth and range, and he never overplays.

(Not that this sort of thing matters, but between the buzz around Cheadle and the buzz around Ray's Jamie Foxx, I think we can expect another flurry of articles about black actors finally getting their due at the Academy Awards, etc., especially if BOTH are nominated.)

I agree that the film is potent, too, though it might have been more so if it hadn't TRIED to be so potent; in scenes like the one where Joaquin Phoenix walks away and says, "I feel so ashamed," I felt that surely there was some way the shame of that situation could have been communicated without the script actually spelling it out for us like that. Moments like that felt just a wee bit too movie-of-the-week-ish.

But those moments are minor, and my quibbles about them are minor. Overall, I do like the film quite a bit.

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I saw this film this past weekend, and I thought it was a good film. I agree with Peter's "movie-of-the-week" comment, and also his comments that he thought the film was still worthwhile.

spoilers1.gif

I liked Cheadle's performance, but I think I didn't think as highly of it because my expectations were so high before seeing the film. I think Cheadle is a very good actor, and I remember anticipating his greatest performance. One of the things that initially disappointed me was his accent. After hearing his British accent in the "Ocean's" movies, I was expecting a flawless African accent. I don't think it was. Still, it wasn't bad, and this minor shortcoming, ultimately, didn't take away from his overall performance.

What kept me glued to the screen was the many harrowing situations that Rusesabagina gets in and the way he gets out of them. If the film is accurate, Rusesabagina is a truly remarkable person, and the story is really incredible. The film would probably crack my top ten, and, fwiw, I'd choose it over <i>Finding Neverland</i>.

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Don Cheadle Becomes 'Nightline' Correspondent

ABC, which received plenty of political flak five years ago when it hired Leonardo DiCaprio to interview President Clinton for an Earth Day special, is getting none of that for hiring Don Cheadle to function tonight (Wednesday) as the principal correspondent on a Nightline feature devoted to the violence in Rwanda. Cheadle, who has received numerous awards for his performance as inn keeper Paul Rusesabagina in last year's Hotel Rwanda, has devoted much of his time since making the movie to raising this country's awareness of the genocidal massacre in Rwanda, where a million people died in just 100 days in 1994, and the continued current crisis in Sudan. (He recently referred to the "tsunamis of violence" taking place in that part of the world.) Today's Los Angeles Times reported that Cheadle will not only narrate the feature, but will be seen interviewing refugees and members of a Congressional delegation that recently visited the country. Rick Wilkinson, who produced the feature for Nightline told the Times that he believed it was the only occasion in which an entertainer played such an active role on Nightline.

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Brian D. McLaren's article on SojoNet on seeing Hotel Rwanda as Revisiting The Passion of the Christ.

The article may seem deliberately inflammatory in some ways, but I think these questions are worth asking:

Why did so many churches urge people to see Gibson's film, and why did so few (if any?) promote Terry George's film? What do our answers to that question say about us?

What were the practical outcomes of millions of people seeing Gibson's film? And what outcomes might occur if equal numbers saw Hotel Rwanda - as an act of Christian faithfulness?

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I agree with Brian McLaren.

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I, too (with the caveat that I think his penultimate question, which scans like a rhetorical question suggesting the answer "Not much," bears a different answer than the implicit one).

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Something I came to terms with while shooting our own documentary regarding Africa:

As of February 8th, Hotel Rwanda's domestic take is $11,689,625

It has (so far) garnered 22 nominations: (Academy, Broadcast Film Critics, Golden Globes, Golden Satellite, Image, Online Film Critics Society, PGA Golden Laurel, SAG, Toronto Int'l Film Festival, WGA)

3 Academy Nominations (Actor, Actress, Screenplay)

3 Golden Globe Nominations (Picture, Actor, Song)

Hotel Rwanda released December 17th, 2004 at 7 theatres, where it stayed until Jaunary 6th. It jumped to 105 theatres for a week, then 192 for a week, then 319 until January 27th. It rose to 417 theatres until last Friday, February 4th, when it roughly doubled to 817 theatres.

817 theatres is the widest release ever for a film of 'African political' nature (not counting Amistad in 1997, which wasn't about Africa so much as the slaves taken from her.)

In contrast, "Barbershop II: Back in Business" showed at 2,711 theatres in wide release, "White Chicks" at 2,726 and "Catwoman" slinked into 3,117 moviehouses.

I did some research on some of the more popular films released regarding African political/social crises.

Bold connotes awards won.

Cry Freedom (1987)

Take: $5,899,797

17 Award nominations (Academy, BAFTA, Berlin Int'l, Golden Globes, Grammys, Political Film Society)

3 Academy Nominations: (Actor, Score, Song)

4 Golden Globe Nominations: (Picture, Director, Actor, Score)

Widest Release: 479 theatres

The Power of One (1992)

Take: $2,827,201

Nominated for 5 awards (Political Film Society, Young Artist)

Widest Release: 143 Theatres

Bopha! (1993)

Take: $212,483

Nominations: N/A

Widest Release: 26 theatres

Cry, the Beloved Country (1996)

Take: $676,525

Nominated for 4 awards (Image, SAG)

Widest Release: N/A

And for the heck of it, by association:

Amistad (1997):

Take: $44,229,441

32 Award Nominations. (Academy, ASC, Art Directors Guild, Broadcast Film Critics, DGA, European Film, Golden Globes, Golden Satellite, Grammy, Image, Online Film Critics, PGA Golden Laurel, PFS, SAG)

4 Golden Globe Nominations: (Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor)

4 Academy Nominations: (Supporting, Cinematography, Costume, Score)

Widest Release: 1,019 theatres, the most limited Spielberg release since Empire of the Sun, ten years previous.

That same year, 3,265 theatres showed Titanic. 3,180 theatres showed Men in Black. And 3,565 theatres showed Spielberg's other flick, Jurassic Park.

3 million people died of AIDS last year in Africa. That's just about 17 tsunamis worth of folks.

I am reminded of Nolte's line, "You're worse than ni**ers. You're African."

And then Cheadle's later, paraphrased but to the effect of:

"Call everyone you know. Tell them what is happening to you. You must reach out through the phone to them, cradle them, let them know your life is in their hands. And when you say goodbye, mean it. Let them know you are going to die. You must shame them into helping you."

I believe that the US in particular doesn't like to be shamed. We don't like to be reminded of reality, we'd rather remain affluent and immediate. We'd rather say 'What about our own problems' than attempt to understand that even the most minimal of efforts can make a massive impact in people's lives--but it takes getting involved, stepping out of the center of the universe. When something like the tsunami hits, it's immediate, something to rally for, incredibly unfortunate and tragic because we see the instant ramifications--we'll stand together and fight because it's horrifying because no one caused it, it's no one's fault. Situations like Rwanda and the AIDS epidemic and the hunger problems and such are often dismissed because the subtle paradigm they brought it upon themselves; we as a nation really have no concept of their day-to-day reality, possessing instead a notional, media-culled synopsis of the issues and a diluted understanding of who the people are versus how the governments over there behave...I suppose I'm digressing.

Films like Hotel Rwanda are essential, they need to be seen, but they invariably slip from the radar despite the accolades and recognition those who judge such works heap upon them. Most of the time they have low budgets, the actors who work on them do so because they believe in them, and distribution is a hard-fought-and-won obstacle course. Juried nominations and word of mouth are the only thing that seem to boost our awareness of them--so I take that as an imperative to mean me--it's up to me to get the word out. Up to me to make it known. Up to me to support these endeavours the best I can. And up to me to continue the difference they're so boldly striving to achieve.

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Jason Bortz wrote:

: I am reminded of Nolte's line, "You're worse than ni**ers. You're African."

FWIW, I believe the line is, "You're not even a nigger. You're African." Maybe it's just a subtle thing, but somehow that turn of phrase seems more effective, to me.

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Jason Bortz wrote:

: I am reminded of Nolte's line, "You're worse than ni**ers. You're African."

FWIW, I believe the line is, "You're not even a nigger. You're African."

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I agree with Brian McLaren.

I've always appreciated McLaren's views and he makes a good point here too.

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I was very pleased to see, Jason, that you didn't include the ludicrously improbable Tears of the Sun in you list of African political movies.

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