PERSONAL: Male. Education: New York University, received degree.
ADDRESSES: Home—CA. Agent—c/o MetroGoldwyn-Mayer, 10250 Constellation Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067-6421.
CAREER: Screenwriter and documentary editor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Academy Award nomination, 2004, for original screenplay.
(With Terry George) Hotel Rwanda (screenplay), United Artists, 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Screenwriter Keir Pearson is the writer, with director Terry George, of the acclaimed 2004 motion picture Hotel Rwanda. The film tells its story against the backdrop of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by marauding Hutus, leaving a death toll so large that the bodies of the dead blocked Lake Victoria. During the one hundred days of civil war and massacre, and at great risk to himself and his family, Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu, saved the lives of almost 1,200 Tutsis by sheltering them in the Mille Collines, a luxury hotel he managed in the Rwandan capital city of Kigali.
Pearson first became aware of Rusesabagina's story after a friend returned from Tanzania with the incredible tale, noted Nancy Rommelmann on the Willamette Week Online. The first person he encountered with direct involvement in the genocide, however, was a survivor who had been protected by Rusesabagina. Pearson first called the Rwandan embassy in Washington, DC, and there he met a former United Nations (U.N.) worker, a Tutsi woman who had survived the genocide. She told him how she had been forced out of hiding with her two-year-old son after her food ran out. She approached a local warlord, and since everyone in the area thought that U.N. employees were rich, she wrote him a million-dollar check that she told him he could cash when the civil war was over. In exchange, the warlord agreed not to trade her to anyone else; instead, he kept her a virtual prisoner for two months, savagely raping her after returning home from the day's killings. When the Tutsi army swept through Kigali, he dropped the woman off at the Mille Collines and fled to Zaire. "That's the first person I talked to," Pearson told Rommelmann. "I walked away just thinking, I've got to tell this story."
In the interview with Rommelmann, Pearson admitted that in writing the screenplay for Hotel Rwanda he was seeking a kind of justice for an atrocity that went mostly ignored by the world at large. The Clinton administration did nothing. The Belgians, who were in Rwanda at the time and who had previously held the country as a colony for fifty years, fled quickly, he told Rommelmann. The French, who were financially backing the Hutus, also did nothing. "I realized the whole world ignored the genocide," Pearson said to Rommelmann. "It felt like a huge injustice."
Pearson commented that at first he felt the sheer scope of the Rwandan genocide would make it difficult for viewers to get into the movie. Rusesabagina's story "seemed the perfect venue for getting into the Rwandan genocide," he told Rommelmann. "Honestly, I felt it needed this heroic, everyman story to kind of get people into it. I don't know if you can tell the whole genocide in a feature film, but what you can do is draw them into one person and his relationships." Rusesabagina's story, Pearson commented, "was so compelling because here you had one man who decided to do something, when the great men of the Western democracies decided to do nothing."
The creators of Hotel Rwanda "took on an enormous challenge: Depict the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the Western world's indifference to those horrors," observed Mayna Bergmann in Video Business. "While maintaining a clear dramatic storyline, the script by George and Pearson explains the complex political forces behind the Rwandan tragedy," remarked Jack Egan in Variety. "At the very least," commented Stephen Holden in the New York Times, "this wrenching film performs the valuable service of lending a human face to an upheaval so savage it seemed beyond the realm of imagination when news of it filtered into the West." Hotel Rwanda "offers a devastating picture of media-driven mass murder left unchecked," Holden concluded.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hollywood Reporter, February 6, 2005, Stephen Golloway, "Best Original Screenplay: These Writers Created the Stories and Dialogue That Have Had People Talking for Months," p. 42.
New York Times, December 22, 2004, Stephen Holden, "Holding a Moral Center as Civilization Fell," review of Hotel Rwanda.
Variety, January 4, 2005, Jack Egan, "Keir Pearson & Terry George, Hotel Rwanda."
Video Business, March 28, 2005, Mayna Bergmann, "Hotel Rwanda: Reliving Genocide," p. 21.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (May 15, 2005), "Keir Pearson."
Willamette Week Online, http://www.wweek.com/ (February 23, 2005), Nancy Rommelmann, "Keir Pearson, Hotel Rwanda Screenwriter" (interview).