Terry George has a weakness for real people. “You’re panning for diamonds rather than trying to snatch stardust from the sky,” he says of hatching characters from true life instead of trying to create them out of thin air.
It’s an aptdescription of Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life protagonist of his latest film, “Hotel Rwanda,” which distills the story of the African country’s genocide in the hotel manager’s uplifting saga. Rusesabagina provided refuge for over 1,200 people in the four-star Hotel Mille Collines, which he ran in the African city of Kigali.
What is it about political stories that draws George –who counts “In the Name of the Father” and “The Boxer” among his credits — in? “It’s ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, (who then) find an inner courage or endurance that they never thought they had — and possibly we don’t think we have,” he says.
He also sees film as a powerful way to illuminate their tales. “Feature film, for me, is … the most accessible form of political education … because it allows (people) to go inside subjects that they have really no deep context for. ‘The Killing Fields’ will clearly be the defining piece of media for most people about the Cambodian genocide. I think, for better or worse, ‘Black Hawk Down’ will be the defining piece about the U.N. intervention in Somalia.”
When George first came upon Rusesabagina’s story, he had been in the midst of writing a fictional political film set in Africa. Then his agent sent him a script by young filmmaker Keir Pearson.
“When I read the story — Paul’s story — I knew this was the perfect vehicle to tell the overall (tale) of the genocide,” he says. He and Pearson got together and melded their ideas: They are co-writers on the final screenplay.
George sums up “Hotel Rwanda” as that rare film whose importance in his heart made everything — right down to the press junket — easier.
“You feel no matter how many times the questions are asked,” he says of notoriously uncreative press inquiries, “this is the first time the story is breaking out of anything beyond the last item in the news or a debating point for an elite political group. So I don’t care how many times I get the (same query).”