Terry George Oscar-winning director speaks to the Belfast Film Festival audience and answers their questions after a screening of Hotel Rwanda, hosted by Mark Davenport at the MAC.
Terry George talked about his experiences while researching the film, parallels he found with his cinematic work and Northern Ireland, and his new projects.
On parallels with Northern Ireland:
“It wasn’t that dissimilar from NI in the division of the populations and the accusations made against each tribe or group or sectarian division or whatever in terms of how the politicians manipulated that. And secondly, when I saw the way it was cultivated and the attention people had to the land, you realised why the genocide happened, and why it was so widespread that ordinary people carried it out… because, the land and the cultivation and the little piece of land they had meant life and death to them. So the notion that someone else was taking it away from them meant death.”
On researching Hotel Rwanda:
“The biggest emotional thing was – we went to a place called Murambi, which was a technical college, on a hill. All the Tutsi in the region had fled there, 48,000 of them crammed into this place. They were all wiped over the course of three days.
The government then had preserved a lot of the bodies, had dug up the bodies from mass graves and put them back in the classrooms where they had been killed.
And what had happened, because lime had been thrown on the bodies, is they’d been mummified and turned white. So the very colour that would have saved their lives, they had become in death…
It was unbelievably emotional….They had a book, a condolence book, that you sign going out…There were donations of like $100 and $200 dollars…and I’m like…your house should be in there. I wrote in the book, ‘I promise to tell this story’.”
On post-conflict Northern Ireland and Hollywood:
“You can tell a story about anything, if you find the right subject matter that universalises the thing.”
“At the minute 71 is sort of a hot topic in Hollywood…The troubles are still there to be tapped into if people find an imaginative way to revisit it.”
“I’ve been writing two other vignette stories around The Shore, to weave in and out of each other and make a feature film out of it, in that I’ve already got a third of it shot so I might as well go for it.”
On if he would make any changes to Hotel Rwanda:
“I have a really hard time watching anything do, because I cringe at the stuff I missed and there’s things I cut out that I wish I’d left in….but in terms of telling the story, I don’t think so. I think I got it. In terms of taking a working class, an ordinary man’s story and managing to universalise that…and taking an audience to an incredibly difficult situation that they would have no knowledge of except through the story of Paul. So on that level I was happy with it and that’s what I tried to do and hope to do again with this next film… That challenge of being able to take an audience into Cambodia, in the way that The Killing Fields did, or Schindler’s List with the holocaust or Missing in Chile, that’s what I feel cinema is worth.
On independent film & festivals:
At the minute we are in a really bad state in terms of independent film…Places like the Belfast Film Festival where you get to see real films, where film makers get a chance to communicate with an audience are becoming more important and rarer by the day…”