Rebelle Director Kim Nguyen Takes Canadian Cinema Beyond Our Borders

Author: Anna Hardwick | Posted on Tuesday, 05 February 2013

This Friday February 8th, First Weekend Club, Vancity Theatre and Telefilm Canada will present the Oscar-nominated feature Rebelle (War Witch). Director Kim Nguyen will be on hand via Skype from Montreal to introduce the film. During TIFF 2012, I heard Nguyen speak at Telefilm Canada's panel about our international filmmaking perspective, "Canadian Cinema Beyond Its Borders." The Right Honourable Roméo Dallaire headlined the panel, which included director Sudz Sutherland (Home Again) and was moderated by Martin Bilodeau, of Mediafilm.ca and Senior Critic at Le Devoir.

As Canadians, Dallaire proposed, since we have an immigrant perspective, our vision is not provincial or local, it is wider than our borders. Dallaire emphasized that it is our responsibility to tell our own stories with our own ethos. Canada has a special place in the world and our films reflect that. 

Nguyen's own vision is shaping Canadian cinema and how it is perceived around the world. Rebelle tells the story of a child kidnapped by rebel soldiers and forced to take part in horrific acts of genocide. Her uncanny ability to escape danger gives her the name War Witch. 

Nguyen spoke about the challenges of making a film without a star in the lead. Both Sutherland and Nguyen admitted to being told time and again that a black lead actor will not sell a movie. Nguyen felt lucky that his producers told him to trust his instincts, that they didn't need a big name to carry the movie and it was more important to make their film authentic. His instincts paid off. Rachel Mwanza, the breakout star in the title role, has garnered acclaim and awards at festivals around the world and helped the propel the film all the way to the Oscars. 

When asked about the challenges of shooting abroad, both directors commiserated about the difficulties of importing weapons into the countries -- Trinidad in Sutherland's case, and the Congo in Nguyen's. 

Nguyen spoke about filmmaking as an imperfect art. While preparing a war scene in Kinshasa, an actual government overturning took place, mimicking what they were about to recreate. They were told not to worry, it was a regular occurrence in the city. They put ads on TV letting the citizens know that they were making a movie, but after they shot their AK-47's in the battle scene, they were met with a torpedo launcher and the army coming towards them. Apparently communication broke down somewhere along the line. 

Bilodeau drew a parallel between violence and religion in the film. Nguyen mused that since the Crusades, rebels use religious beliefs as a rallying cry for war. "They seek a rationale stronger than everyday life," he said.

Nguyen believes that the "pain of experience is necessary to make better films. We have to take off the safety net. Canada is a comfortable country." His solution is to make films with an international perspective to help reach outside ourselves.

Rebelle (War Witch) plays Friday February 8th at 8.30pm at Vancity Theatre. The event starts at 7.30pm. Tickets for the screening can be purchased in advance here: http://www.viff.org/theatre/programs/pg2511-rebelle-war-witch