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<i>Hotel Rwanda</i> Movie is Retelling of Human Tragedy and Triumph

Ten years ago in the small African nation of Rwanda, Hutu extremists slaughtered almost a million of their Tutsi neighbors as well as any moderate Hutus. One man, Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, was able to save more than a thousand refugees from certain death. His story has become a movie, "Hotel Rwanda." It was recently screened at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and VOA's Brian Purchia was there.

Blood flowed in Rwanda for a hundred days in 1994. When it was over almost a million people were dead. As Rwandans butchered and shot each other the world closed its eyes. Joaquin Phoenix plays a photojournalist covering the massacre.

"I think if people see this footage they'll say, ‘Oh my God, that's horrible,’ and go on eating their dinners," says Joaquin Phoenix's character in the movie.

Hotel Rwanda tells the true story of Paul Rusesabagina and how, through courage and cunning, he was able to save more than 1200 refugees from Hutu death squads.

"There will be no intervention force, no rescue," says the actor who plays Paul in the movie. "We can only save ourselves."

Paul, a hotel manager in the nation's capital, Kigali, opened his luxury hotel to Rwandans trying to escape the genocide. Paul is played by actor Don Cheadle.

"It was an amazing privilege, I think, to be able to tell Paul's story," he said.

The real-life hero was on hand for the screening.

"People were not informed, were not aware of what was happening," Mr. Rusesabagina said. "The average American was not informed, some few politicians and few journalists were only aware, but the average American was not."

Sofia Okonedo plays Paul's wife, Tatiana. She hopes the movie will raise awareness about other conflicts.

"If somehow it resonates with an audience and they felt slightly different or take a little bit more interest in reading about it or Ivory Coast or the Congo, then our job is done," she said.

"I also hope in just a very basic way that the film entertains and that people are sort of swept up in the telling of the story, because the story it really is a thriller with a real love story at its core and I hope people are moved," said actor Don Cheadle.

The movie left quite an impression on the audience at the premier.

"It shows the power of individuals to respond to an overwhelming crisis," said moviegoer Ed Rackley.

Hotel Rwanda has already won two prestigious awards: the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and the American Film Institute's Audience Award. The movie opens nationwide in American theaters in mid-December.