Kim Nguyen’s Oscar-nominated film War Witch, about a 12-year-old girl captured by rebel forces in sub-Saharan Africa, did not win the coveted statuette. But Komona's tale of survival in war-torn Africa captivated audiences around the world.
After rebels snatch her from her people, Komona is forced to become a child soldier.
She is told: “We are rebels. Respect your guns. They are your new mother and father.”
Komona is given “magic milk” from the trees, a hallucinogen that makes her see ghosts in the forest. They warn her of enemy fire and so she becomes known as a witch.
But Komona is just a little girl. She learns the mechanics of killing but craves a normal life. In the midst of war, Komona falls in love with another child soldier.
Filmmaker Kim Nguyen infused romance into the story because, he said, even in the middle of carnage, life goes on.
“When I visited Burundi, I saw these realities where people are struggling to find a meal every day and they are fighting and there is violence and yet you still hear in the night jealous husbands, jealous wives screaming at each other," said Nguyen. "We’re still looking for love, for a family, for stability, for faithfulness, continuity, whatever, even in the completely chaotic state of war.”
Rachel Mwanza plays Komona. Although not trained as an actress, she delivers a devastating performance, channeling her personal experience with homelessness.
She said her goal is to start a foundation to help homeless children in Congo.
"And really that's my idea, that I would like to help the children of the street because in the street there are many children who suffer. There are many people who suffer in my country. I know many people who I see are suffering," said Mwanza.
War Witch presents the struggles of people in a violent world where tradition and superstition reign.