Rwanda Survivors Say Hollywood Has Got It Wrong

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by
Reuters

Rwanda Survivors Say Hollywood Has Got It Wrong

by
Arthur Asiimwe
People pay their respects in front of dozens of coffins containing the remains of more than 600 victims of the 1994 genocide, during a commemoration in Kigali, Rwanda April 7, 2006. Three films in two years about Rwanda's genocide have shocked Western audiences with the scale and savagery of the slaughter, but many survivors in the tiny central African nation are unimpressed with the big-screen's wrong depictions of the carnage. Picture taken April 7, 2006. To match feature Rwanda-Genocide REUTERS/Themistoc

People pay their respects in front of dozens of coffins containing the remains of more than 600 victims of the 1994 genocide, during a commemoration in Kigali, Rwanda April 7, 2006. Three films in two years about Rwanda's genocide have shocked Western audiences with the scale and savagery of the slaughter, but many survivors in the tiny central African nation are unimpressed with the big-screen's wrong depictions of the carnage. Picture taken April 7, 2006. To match feature Rwanda-Genocide REUTERS/Themistocles Hakizimana

Three films in two years about Rwanda's genocide have shocked Western audiences with the scale and savagery of the slaughter, but many survivors in the tiny central African nation are unimpressed.

They say the big-screen depictions of the carnage, when about 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered in 100 days of state-sponsored killings, have got the story wrong.

"My conclusion was that both movies are another Hollywood fiction geared at making money," said Jean Pierre Rucogoza, a 47-year-old university lecturer and genocide survivor who has watched "Sometimes in April" and "Hotel Rwanda."

Rucogoza lost 11 relatives in the killings. In an interview on the eve of the 12th anniversary of the genocide earlier this month, he said he believed the films partly represented the West's conscience rearing its head too late.

"But, unfortunately, they are also being used as a money-minting tool," he told Reuters. Many who lived through Rwanda's bloodshed say they are happy the films remind the world of the tragedy, but say the reality was different.

'NOT OUR STORY'

"'Sometimes in April' is characterized by very serious inaccuracies and omissions which made most survivors say 'it is not our story'," said Francois Ngarambe, president of a Rwandan genocide survivors' association.

Directed by Raoul Peck, "Sometimes in April" tells of the plight of a Hutu soldier who is separated from his Tutsi wife and two children as violence engulfs the capital Kigali in April 1994.

Ten years later, he learns of their deaths from his brother, who was a presenter on a hate radio station urging the killers on, and is now facing an international trial.

Ngarambe said the film wrongly portrayed the genocide as largely the work of militia, neglecting the careful planning by the Hutu extremists in the government and the military.

The latest screen take on the genocide, and the only to be filmed on location, Michael Caton-Jones's "Shooting Dogs," had its world premiere at a stadium in Kigali last month.

It was filmed at the Ecole Technique Officielle, a school in the capital where Belgian U.N. troops abandoned more than 2,000 Tutsis to be slaughtered by machete-wielding killers.

It has also been criticized by some survivors, particularly for one scene where a white Roman Catholic priest decides to stay with the refugees, rather than be evacuated along with his expatriate colleagues.

Many senior church leaders were complicit in some of Rwanda's killings and the depiction angered many who already blame the United Nations and Western powers for failing to intervene.

SYMBOLS OF HEROISM

"There was never a situation, not at that school or anywhere, where a white person refused to be evacuated. That is a pure lie," said Wilson Gabo, a coordinator of Rwanda's Survivors Fund charity.

The makers concede a degree of artistic license with the facts of what actually happened at the school, risking inflaming tempers in a society where memories are still raw.

Amid international inaction, the genocide was finally ended by Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who led a rebel army from Uganda to seize power. He has recently joined the film debate, sharply criticizing the Oscar-nominated "Hotel Rwanda."

Released last year, Terry George's movie stars Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, the Hutu manager of a Kigali hotel where more than 1,200 people survived the killings taking place outside.

Kagame, a Tutsi, said the South African-filmed portrayal of Rusesabagina was a "falsehood," and he would not have picked him as a symbol of heroism in those tragic times.

"Some of the things actually attributed to this person are not true," Kagame told reporters last week. "Even those that are true do not merit the level of highlight."

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