Vietnamese-Canadian director-writer Kim Nguyen‘s film War Witch was nominated yesterday for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, marking the second time an ethnic Vietnamese director is nominated by the Academy, and the first time representing a country that’s not Vietnam.
War Witch (La Rebelle), in French and Lingala, tells the story of Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a young girl whose life is anything but normal. Kidnapped by African rebels at the age of 12, Komona was forced at gunpoint to slaughter her own parents and fight as a child soldier against the government in the jungles.
But Komona was no ordinary solider. Due to her ability to see gray ghosts in the trees that warn her of approaching enemies, she was deemed a sorceress and bestowed the title of War Witch by the supreme leader of the rebels, Great Tiger (Mizinga Mwinga).
Komona’s journey ultimately finds her in love with a fellow child soldier named Magician (Serge Kanyinda), but pregnant with another man’s child. Saddled with the reality that a life of normalcy is forever beyond her grasp, Komona must find a way to resolve the actions of her past.
Kim Nguyen is no stranger to Vietnamese film world. Many fellow Viet filmmakers have met him at the 2003 Vietnamese International Film Festival (“ViFF“) in Irvine, when his first feature The Marsh (Le Marais) was screened as Closing Night film. That film was nominated for Best Direction and Best Screenplay — both by Kim Nguyen — at the Jutra Awards, the annual Canadian francophone film prize. War Witch previously won Best Feature at the Tribeca Festival, where it premiered.
Kim Nguyen’s film represents Canada at the Oscars. The first ethnic Vietnamese to be nominated for the Oscar is Trần Anh Hùng in 1993, for Scent of Green Papaya. Although shot in France, that film represented Vietnam at the Academy Awards.
Both nominees, Trần Anh Hùng and Kim Nguyen, are expected to appear at this year’s ViFF in April.