No Warm Welcome to 'Hotel Rwanda' Johannesburg
No Warm Welcome to 'Hotel' Johannesburg
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The payroll truck carrying $40,000 was robbed by four men with AK-47s.The location manager had to fight off an attempted carjacking.
And one of the production assistants was shot in the arm while waiting for a bus to take him to the set.
Those were just some of the challenges faced by the cast and crew of "Hotel Rwanda" during the course of filming in the violent South African city of Johannesburg.
"But nobody was killed," says Terry George, the director and co-writer of the film, which opens Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles.
The movie tells the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina (played by Golden Globe nominee Don Cheadle), a hotel manager who housed 1,200 refugees during the Rwanda genocide when Hutus massacred their Tutsi neighbors.
"Yes, it's dangerous, but it's a big city like L.A., and so you get used to it," George says of the Johannesburg experience.
The filmmakers took certain precautions like hiring private security, but some measures -- like staying in homes surrounded by electric fences, which are a norm in the city -- proved to be comically frustrating.
"I got locked in one morning, and I couldn't find the buzzer to open the gate, and I couldn't find the switch to turn off the electric fence," George says. "I couldn't get out of the bloody house to get to the location!"
The filmmakers initially wanted to shoot the movie in Rwanda, but that was quickly nixed. Not only does the country not have the infrastructure to support a shoot -- transporting crew and equipment would have been expensive -- but it was deemed politically unwise because the country is still healing from the strife that ripped it apart.
"Hotel Rwanda" producer Alex Ho, who had experience shooting in Africa on such projects as "The Ghost and the Darkness" and "Ali," said other productions have gone into Rwanda and suffered the consequences, including a BBC production that encountered a riot.
However, the filmmakers did manage to send a second unit into Rwanda, and "you could feel the tension in the air," Ho says. "The people still have that (hurt). I don't think it's going to go away very quickly."
With Rwanda out for principal photography, the next logical choice for the shoot was South Africa. The country has a film scene that is starting to percolate.
The filmmakers did have to overcome some tensions on the set from an unexpected source: the extras. "Hotel Rwanda" used thousands of extras, employing Congolese, Rwandans, South Africans and other ethnic groups, many of them actual refugees -- and many of whom had their own frictions.
"We had to make peace," Ho says.
George believes that his people overcame the dangerous challenges and hardship because of the special story they were telling. "It was a fantastic time of bonding together, and the crew and cast went the extra mile because of the story," he says. "They worked harder, stayed later, because it was worthwhile and it lifted everybody."