War Witch

War Witch (French: Rebelle) is a 2012 Canadian dramatic war film written and directed by Kim Nguyen and starring Rachel Mwanza, Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien and Serge Kanyinda. It is about a child soldier forced into a civil war in Africa, and who is believed to be a witch. The film was primarily shot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the French and Lingala languages.

War Witch
Film poster
Directed byKim Nguyen
Produced byPierre Even
Marie-Claude Poulin
Kim Nguyen
Written byKim Nguyen
CinematographyNicolas Bolduc
Edited byRichard Comeau
Distributed byMétropole Films
Release date
  • 17 February 2012 (2012-02-17) (Berlin)
  • October 2012 (2012-10) (Canada)
Running time
90 minutes
Box office$70,544[1]

After premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival, the film received positive reviews. It won several honours, including 10 at the 1st Canadian Screen Awards, notably Best Motion Picture. War Witch was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.


During a civil war in sub-saharan Africa, a 12-year-old girl named Komona is abducted by rebel forces to become a child soldier under a warlord known as the Great Tiger. The rebels compel Komona to kill her own parents. After drinking tree sap, she begins to experience vivid illusions. When her visions enable her to survive an attack, she is considered to be a child witch and is viewed as an asset by the Great Tiger, who also attempts to make her a concubine.

Komona and her young love interest, a boy with albinism known as Magician, eventually escape the rebels and move to a town. He hopes to marry her, and she asks him to capture a mystical white rooster to secure her agreement. However, she is kidnapped by one of the Great Tiger's commanders and Magician is killed. After Komona is raped by the commander, she kills him and runs away to her deserted home town, narrating her life story to her fetus. There she gives birth to a baby boy whom she names after the magician.


  • Rachel Mwanza as Komona
  • Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien as Commandant-rebelle
  • Serge Kanyinda as Magicien
  • Mizinga Mwinga as Grand Tigre Royal
  • Ralph Prosper as Boucher
  • Jean Kabuya as School camp coach
  • Jupiter Bokondji as Royal Tiger sorcerer
  • Starlette Mathata as Komona's mother
  • Alex Herabo as Komona's father
  • Dole Malalou as Coltan dealer
  • Karim Bamaraki as Biker


Montreal director Kim Nguyen wrote the screenplay over a period of 10 years, inspired by an article about children in Burma leading a rebellion force.[2] In researching the film, Nguyen met real child soldiers and humanitarian staff. He envisioned his project as "a redemption story about a child who lives through war and peace."[3]

War Witch was primarily filmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[4] Nguyen discovered Rachel Mwanza and numerous other child actors for his cast in Kinshasa, DRC, after open auditions.[5][6] Mwanza had never acted before,[7] and was 15 by September 2012. Nguyen said that "Rachel was living in the streets before we did the film".[6] Besides the novice Congolese actors, professional Canadian actors joined the cast.[8]

Most of War Witch was filmed in the order of the story.[3] It was only the second film shot in the DRC in 25 years, and due to security concerns, the crew was accompanied by soldiers with AK-47s, and insurance was challenging to obtain.[9]


The film had its debut at the Berlin International Film Festival on 17 February 2012, where it was seen by 1,500 people. Nguyen became the first Canadian to compete for the Silver Bear in 13 years.[9] In the spring, it played in North America for the first time at the Tribeca Film Festival.[10] It also screened from 14 to 15 September at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.[11]

It had a limited release in Toronto and Ottawa on 21 September 2012.[2] At Tribeca, distribution rights were sold for the United States.[10]


Critical reception

War Witch has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 63 reviews and critical consensus "War Witch is a mature, intense drama that embraces the bruatlity [sic] of its subject and invites the audience to sympathize with its protagonist's nightmarish circumstances".[12] Guy Dixon, writing for The Globe and Mail, gave the film three stars, saying it transcended war films and Rachel Mwanza gave a great performance.[13] The National Post rated it three stars, declaring it "a film you won’t be able to look away from no matter how hard you want to".[11] Jay Stone of The Winnipeg Free Press assessed the film as "harrowing" with "strikingly authentic performances", including from Mwanza.[14]

Stephen Holden's The New York Times review complimented the film for its portrayal of Komona, lacking luridness or smugness.[15] In Variety, Leslie Felperin said the treatment was appropriately "harrowing" for the topic, and positively reviewed Nguyen's aptitude.[16] The Boston Globe's Ty Burr assessed it as "grim yet clear-eyed, and it seeks out glimmers of hope in individual resilience and in the connections that bind us together".[17] In The Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young hailed it as an "extraordinary story".[18] University of Berlin film scholar Claudia Kotte wrote War Witch, with Incendies (2010), Monsieur Lazhar (2011) and Inch'Allah (2012), represent a break from focus in the Cinema of Quebec on local history to more global concerns.[19]


The film was Canada's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 85th Academy Awards.[20][21] It was a rare Canadian submission for featuring a substantial amount of Lingala as well as French.[22] It was among nine shortlisted in December 2012,[23] and became one of the five nominees.[24] Mwanza received a visa to allow her to attend the Academy Awards.[7] It was the third consecutive Quebec film nominated, following Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar, with Nguyen proclaiming "People around the world are looking at Quebec cinema now and waiting for the next director to come out of here. This has a tremendous impact on a country’s recognition outside of its borders".[25]

The film was in competition for the Golden Bear at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival in February 2012.[26][27] It also triumphed at the 1st Canadian Screen Awards, which replaced the Genie Awards that year in honouring Canadian film.[28]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 24 February 2013 Best Foreign Language Film Kim Nguyen Nominated [24]
Berlin International Film Festival 9–19 February 2012 Silver Bear for Best Actress Rachel Mwanza Won [29]
Ecumenical Jury Special Mention War Witch Won [20]
Canadian Screen Awards 3 March 2013 Best Motion Picture Pierre Even, Marie-Claude Poulin and Kim Nguyen Won [30]
Best Director Kim Nguyen Won
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best Actress Rachel Mwanza Won
Best Supporting Actor Serge Kanyinda Won
Best Art Direction/Production Design Emmanuel Fréchette and Josée Arsenault Won
Best Cinematography Nicolas Bolduc Won
Best Editing Richard Comeau Won
Best Overall Sound Claude La Haye, Daniel Bisson and Bernard Gariépy Strobl Won
Best Sound Editing Martin Pinsonnault, Jean-François Sauvé, Simon Meilleur and Claire Pochon Won
Best Costume Design Éric Poirier Nominated
Best Visual Effects Ève Brunet, Marc Morissette and Alexandra Vaillancourt Nominated
Jutra Awards March 2013 Best Film Pierre Even and Marie-Claude Poulin Won [31]
Best Director Kim Nguyen Won
Best Screenplay Won
Best Actress Rachel Mwanza Won
Best Supporting Actor Serge Kanyinda Won
Best Cinematography Nicolas Bolduc Won
Best Editing Richard Comeau Won
Best Sound Claude La Haye, Martin Pinsonnault and Bernard Gariépy Strobl Won
Best Costume Design Éric Poirier Nominated
Best International Motion Picture Kim Nguyen Nominated
NAACP Image Award 21–22 February 2014 Outstanding International Motion Picture Won [32]
Tribeca Film Festival April 2012 Best Actress Rachel Mwanza Won [33]
Vancouver Film Critics Circle 2013 Best Canadian Film Kim Nguyen Won [34]
Best Actress in a Canadian Film Rachel Mwanza Won
Best Supporting Actor in a Canadian Film Serge Kanyinda Won

See also


  1. "War Witch: Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  2. Ahearn, Victoria (20 September 2012). "'Rebelle' film shows paradoxes of child soldiers as well as its Congolese star". The Canadian Press.
  3. Goldmann, A.J. (17 February 2012). "An African child soldier's violent tale of redemption". The Toronto Star. p. E6.
  4. "Rebelle". Tiff.net. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  5. Power, Tom (2012). "Kim Nguyen's 'War Witch' captures child soldier's strife". CBC Radio. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  6. Ahearn, Victoria (13 September 2012). "'Rebelle' star not living a 'fairytale,' despite accolades, says director". The Canadian Press.
  7. "Oscars 2013: Congolese War Witch hopeful gets US visa". BBC News. 21 February 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  8. Collett-White, Mike (17 February 2012). "New film shows African conflict through eyes of girl". Reuters. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  9. Wyatt, Nelson (17 February 2012). "First Canadian in 13 years vying for Berlin's top film prize at Berlinale". The Canadian Press.
  10. Cox, Gordon (14 June 2012). "'War Witch' to Tribeca". Daily Variety. p. 4.
  11. J.K.G. (5 September 2012). "TIFF mini reviews: M to S". National Post. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  12. "War Witch (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  13. Dixon, Guy (21 September 2012). "Rebelle: Far more than a war film". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  14. Stone, Jay (11 January 2013). "Horror, humanity and magic in blood-soaked African jungle". The Winnipeg Free Press. p. D6.
  15. Holden, Stephen (28 February 2013). "Atrocities, Through a Child's Eyes". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  16. Felperin, Leslie (27 February 2012). "War Witch". Variety. Vol. 426 no. 3. p. 62.
  17. Burr, Ty (27 March 2013). "Grim 'War Witch' foresees some hope". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  18. Young, Deborah (17 February 2012). "War Witch: Berlin Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  19. Kotte, Claudia (2015). "Zero Degrees of Separation: Post-Exilic Return in Denis Villeneuve's Incendies". Cinematic Homecomings. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 288.
  20. "Telefilm Canada announces that Kim Nguyen's War Witch (Rebelle) is Canada's selection for the Best Foreign Language Oscar". Telefilm Canada. 18 September 2012. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  21. Dunlevy, T'cha (18 September 2012). "Kim Nguyen's Rebelle (War Witch) is Canada's Oscar submission for best foreign language film". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  22. Wong, Jessica (23 September 2016). "Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World to be Canada's Oscar foreign-language film submission". CBC News. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  23. "9 Foreign Language Films Vie For Oscar". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 30 December 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  24. "Oscars: Hollywood announces 85th Academy Award nominations". BBC News. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  25. Knight, Chris (10 January 2013). "Canadian director Kim Nguyen on his Oscar nomination for War Witch (Rebelle): 'We're clearly the underdog'". National Post. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  26. "Rebelle de Kim Nguyen en première mondiale à Berlin". cinoche. 20 January 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  27. "'Bel Ami' With Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman Gets World Premiere in Berlin". The Hollywood Reporter. 20 January 2012. Archived from the original on 22 January 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  28. Mesley, Wendy; Nathoo, Zulekha (3 March 2013). "The movie 'War Witch' was the main winner of the Canadian Screen Awards". The National. CBC Television.
  29. "Prizes of the International Jury 2012". Berlinale. 19 February 2012. Archived from the original on 28 February 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
  30. "Canadian Screen Awards raises the star wattage". The Toronto Star. 3 March 2013.
  31. Vlessing, Etan (19 March 2013). "Kim Nguyen's War Witch dominates Jutras in Quebec". Playback. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  32. Aaron Couch, Arlene Washington (22 February 2014). "NAACP Image Awards: The Winners". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  33. "Cuban 'defector film' takes Tribeca prizes". BBC News. 27 April 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  34. Ng, Danielle (8 January 2013). "Beyond the Black Rainbow, War Witch win at Vancouver critics awards". Playback. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
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