Hero of Hotel Rwanda smeared, claims director of the film





Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the movie "Hotel Rwanda," is being denounced by some in his country as a traitor and a criminal. Perhaps he helped bring some of this abuse on himself, but none of it is deserved. As director and producer of the film, I'd like to explain.

To make a film of a true story you must compress timelines, create composite characters and dramatize emotions. When it came to making "Hotel Rwanda" -- the story of how Paul Rusesabagina saved the lives of hundreds of people who took shelter from the 1994 genocide in the hotel he managed -- I was obsessed with getting it right. The Rwandan episode was a slaughter of unimaginable horror and magnitude, yet I firmly believed I had found a story that showed that even in the midst of such horror the human capacity for good can triumph.

[There was one empty seat at both high-level screenings of the film in Rwanda] -- the one reserved for Paul Rusesabagina. Two days before, as I waited for him to join me at the boarding gate in Brussels for the flight to Kigali, he called to say he had decided not to travel to Rwanda. On his speaking tours around the United States and Europe, he had begun to criticize Kagame's government, saying that the last election in Rwanda, in which Kagame received 90.5 percent of the vote, was not democratic and that true peace would come to Rwanda only when it had an inclusive government. Because of his criticism, Rusesabagina said, he had been advised that it would not be safe for him. I could not persuade him to come.

Last fall his fears were borne out when Rwandan journalists and politicians began a smear campaign against him. On Oct. 28 a reporter for the Rwandan daily newspaper the New Times ran a long story on the "true nature" of Rusesabagina, which quoted a former receptionist at the hotel as saying that he had saved only his few friends, and that he had charged people to stay in the rooms (a fact we had highlighted and explained in the film). Buried at the end of the piece was probably the true fear of the Rwandan authorities: that Rusesabagina planned to form a political party.



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