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"War Witch" Director Kim Nguyen Talks Film's Magic Themes, Politics and Child Soldiers

Shadow and Act By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act May 17, 2012 at 6:55PM

Here's are some interesting excerpts from a Filmmaker Mag interview with French-Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen, the helmer of War Witch, which premiered at the Berlinale International Film Festival. Tambay wrote a review of War Witch after its screening at the Tribeca Film Festival last month; if you haven't read it, see his review HERE, where he calls it "a poignant work, filled with strong, captivating images, and wonderfully naturalistic performances (especially from star Rachel Mwanza). 
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war witch

Here's are some interesting excerpts from a Filmmaker Mag interview with French-Canadian filmmaker Kim Nguyen, the helmer of War Witch, which premiered at the Berlinale International Film Festival. Tambay wrote a review of War Witch after its screening at the Tribeca Film Festival last month; if you haven't read it, see his review HERE, where he calls it "a poignant work, filled with strong, captivating images, and wonderfully naturalistic performances (especially from star Rachel Mwanza). 

Congolese newcomer Rachel Mwanza won Berlinale's "Best Actress" Award for her performance as young girl who is kidnapped from her village and becomes a child soldier. Director Nguyen says he worked on the script for 10 years. He chose a particular style of filmmaking influenced by Andrea Arnold's British film Fish Tank; the script is not shown to the actors, and the scenes are shot chronologically, therefore encouraging more naturalistic and visceral perfomances from the actors. 

When we previously profiled the film on the site, there was a concern from a white filmmaker's perspective of life in Africa, especially regarding this sensitive and controversial subject. Nguyen shed light on how he was able comprehend the African environment and politics.

Nguyen said, "Magic is omnipresent in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is very surprising for us Westerners. I do not want to generalize Africa but of what I saw of the DRC, there is an omnipresent, daily interaction with magic, with spirituality. It has its good sides and its bad sides. There’s also a part of manipulation. Politics is much influenced by magic. It’s a way of handling crowds."

Here's what Nguyen says about meeting the child soldiers for the film:

I met and I spoke with ex-child soldiers who were in a remote area in Burundi. One tends to have a sort of monolithic code about child soldiers but the trauma of these children, what they went through, their various personalities, is as vast as in the normal life. Some recover much better than others. Each child soldier is different. It’s very complex.

On coming up with the idea of ghosts that the main character sees:

One of the problems [of shooting this] was how one testifies on the screen to the state of mind of these children. I saw films which were “objective.” But their story was written in the third person, they did not give the perspective of the child soldier. I wanted to make a film which talked from the point of view of the `I’, even if formally that will be stylized at certain times. For example, when the child soldiers kills, there is a whole system operated by the commanders, the armies of rebels, to soften the violence, to make it acceptable and even “satisfying.” I decided to represent that by the fact that the people whom these children kill die, but one never sees them dying with the red blood rushing on the ground. We see ghosts.

 And here's what he had to say regarding the love between two child soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress, and whether true love could really surface:

That’s the point of view that I chose. The public can, of course, question it. What I found out in my research is that there is a bipolarity within the child soldier. His familial bonds are killed so that he is rejected by his roots. One makes him commit horrible acts to that effect. But they remain children. Often for these child soldiers who live years in armies of rebels, the moment of rupture, the initial cataclysm is often a place where emotional maturity remains. Either they inwardly shut down or they play football with friends and the attachment to the friends remains. There is a distance with those that they kill but the close friends stay. But at the same time, because they have a Kalashnikov they could kill their friends without additional justification. There is really a bipolarity in the personality of child soldiers.

Click HERE to read the full interview.

Here's the trailer:

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