War Witch, known as Rebelle in French, earned the best film award and its 15-year-old lead actress scored the best actress award. War Witch centers on a 14-year old pregnant child soldier and her journey as she tries to escape from her perilous situation. Congolese actress Rachel Mwanza stars as Komona, who was abducted at the age of 12, forced to shoot her parents and join a revolution as a soldier. Komona is eventually dubbed a witch because of visions she had that guided her and those visions are used by the rebels to prepare for potential enemies. In the midst of this, she meets and falls in love with another soldier, Magician, and they try to escape together.
Director Kim Nguyen chose Mwanza for the role after the formerly homeless actress showed up to a casting call in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nguyen considers Mwanza the biggest reason someone should see the film. “She is the first African actress to ever win the Silver Bear for best actress at the Berlin International Film Festival,” Nguyen said to Indie Wire. “Her presence and charisma on screen is reminiscent of great actors such as Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep before they became Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep. Her aura on the screen is just mesmerizing!”
The film has been met with positive reviews, with one reviewer at the Montreal Gazette raving about Mwanza and her acting chops. “She is a natural. She just lights up the screen as this scared girl who somehow finds the inner force to make it through this nightmare,” wrote Brendan Kelly.
Another film featuring people of color, Una Noche, also scored top honors at Tribeca, winning the best cinematography award. Una Noche is about two Cuban teens that flee their homeland in search of a better life in Miami. In an ironic twist, two of the film’s stars, Anailin de la Rua de la Torre and Javier Nunez Florian, might have taken from their characters and have disappeared while en route from Cuba to the United States. They were due to leave after the festival and are suspected to be in Miami.
“Though they’ve made difficult choices about what to do at present, I wish them the very best in all their endeavours and I hope I will get to see them again soon,” writer and director Lucy Malloy said to Indiewire. “It was a pleasure working with them. I would love to know that they are well.”
The film festival concludes on Sunday.