Canadian film buffs are hoping for a win at the Academy Awards on Sunday, February 24, after director Kim Nguyen’s War Witch, released as Rebelle in Canada, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Here’s what you need to know about the Montreal-based director’s breakout movie about child soldiers in Africa.
1. The Script Took 10 Years to Write But Was Ditched During Filming in Favor of Improvisation
Set in an unidentified African country and filmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, War Witch tells the story of a young girl named Komona who is taken by rebels to join their army after she is forced to execute her parents. Once filming started Nguyen decided not to show his actors the script, and instead guided them through each scene using directed improvisation. Shot chronologically, Nguyen told the Times Colonist he had specific expectations but gave the actors the freedom to go where their instincts took them:
What’s very eerie, when you look at the film and you read the script, there’s a lot of similarities (between them).
‘War Witch’ Oscar Featurette – Director Kim Nguyen On Motivations, Casting, New Footage, More fb.me/2cGasW7JV
— Shadow And Act (@shadowandact) February 18, 2013
2. Nguyen Based the Script on a True Story
Nguyen told the Globe and Mail that he was inspired to write the script for War Witch 10 years ago after hearing about Johnny and Luther Htoo, 10-year-old twin brothers who led a guerrilla group called God’s Army in Burma in the 1990s, and whose followers thought they were gods. After some consideration he changed the film’s setting from Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa, and decided to leave the country unnamed. Discussing his decision to set the movie in Africa, he told the New York Times:
It’s not Congo’s reality, it’s a construction of several different realities. Most of the things you see in the film are things I have read about, that are slightly twisted but are true in their principles. But since I transformed so many of these things, I couldn’t give a name to the place where I was filming. It wouldn’t have been responsible to do so.
3. Lead Actress Rachel Mwanza Was Discovered While Living on the Streets
Born in 1997 and abandoned by her parents as a child, star Rachel Mwanza spent her youth alternating between her grandmother’s house and living on the streets of Kinshasa. In 2012 she was featured in Belgian director Marc-Henri Wajnberg’s Kinshasa Kids, a drama about a group of street children, expelled from their homes after being accused of witchcraft, who form a hip hop group.
— Rebelle / War Witch(@Rebellelefilm) February 18, 2013
4. War Witch Was Shot in 45 Days in and Around Kinshasa
As part of his research, Nguyen met with former child soldiers in Burundi and spent a couple of months living in Congo before he actually began production. He told MSN Canada that logistics, instability and chaos in the Congo made filming in Kinshasa a major struggle.
[It is] one of the most difficult, most challenging cities to be living in right now in the world.
5. The Film Has Already Won 6 International Awards, Including Best Actress
Since premiering at the Berlinale International Film Festival in February 2012, War Witch has claimed 6 international prizes already, including Best Actress for Rachel Mwanza, Best Narrative Feature, Best Film and Best Cinematography.
— Rebelle / War Witch(@Rebellelefilm) January 30, 2013