War Witch: Rachel Mwanza and Kim Nguyen Talk About Making the Movie

Rachel Mwanza and Kim Nguyen. Photo for Los Angeles Beat by Billy Bennight

Rachel Mwanza and Kim Nguyen. Photo for Los Angeles Beat by Billy Bennight

Rachel Mwanza and Kim Nguyen joined us at a round table interview at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills in support of the feature War Witch, an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film. War Witch is scheduled for limited release dates that starts in Los Angeles at 3 of the Laemmle Theaters on March 8th. Both Rachel and Kim sat before a circle of journalists and introduced themselves to us all. Kim Nguyen, the Director of War Witch, would be acting as the interpretor for the actress and star of War Witch the French speaking Rachel Mwanza.

The first round of questions focused on the Oscars and famous personalities. Kim illuminated Rachel’s experience path at other festivals, like the Berlin Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival among others. Kim explained those gave her some experience with the hectic and confusing nature of Red Carpets. So she was prepared for the parade and antics of the Independent Spirit and Academy Awards: although, Kim admitted the Academy Awards was far more grand than any of the previous events. In the flurry of questioning Rachel admitted to having a crush on Daniel Radcliff and she is a huge fan of Beyonce. In this way she’s much like any other teen with the exception of having 2 features to her credit. Rachel also has the disadvantage of coming from a broken home where she ended up in the care of her Grand Mother at the age of 6. Sadly, by the time she was 10 her Grand Mother informed her she’d have a better chance of survival by living on the streets of Kinshasa. This was a sad point for me knowing that my own Mother was in the care her Grand Mother till she was an adult. For Rachel not to have the safety net of her Grand Mother is a troubling truth for me to embrace.

At this point the topic turned to Rachel’s care. Kim explained that War Witch’s production wanted to provide Rachel with financial stability and an education. Because of Rachel’s previous experience with a Dutch documentary called “Kinshasa Kids” where the money she earned had been given to her family to care for and educate Rachel were then appropriated to other family interest. Kim illuminated the path War Witch’s production had taken to create a sustainable living situation for Rachel, where she was given a care taker, a monthly salary and an money for her education. Kim said, ” It’s her own salary, that is administrated in a way. She’s giving back so much to us. It’s a good deal: It’s a business deal. We wanted to do our job to make films, but we wanted to be as ethical as possible. It’s not a humanitarian charity! Rachel deserves everything she’s given. She traveling, doing promotional work. It’s not a gift. She brought the movie to the Oscars! It’s nice to see a non-preditory and sustainable model being used in hopes of fostering a positive out come for Rachel.

Part of the banter between us and our hosts turned to sub-themes in the main story line that were shared by Kim. Kim spoke on how cell phones are used in Kinshasa and discussed the plight of the Albinos in Central Africa. Kim said, “One of the most important things is to show, in the script, is the (social) idiosyncrasies. You’re in this war ridden country and yet you have this girl who’s yelling at this guy that has two phones. She’s yelling at him because he came back late and she found out he has a second phone. In Kinshasa, you call the second phone “The phone line to the second office”. The second office is the mistress. Yet there’s all these struggles and you have these simple love/jealousy stories. I thought, I felt it was important to put in the film. Then Kim addressed the white roster story line illuminating and the plight of the Albinos in Central Africa. Albinos are relegated to living in dedicated Albino villages. Albinos are not regarded as wholly human and yet are considered magical, which leaves them open to predatory activities in central Africa. Kim said, “There are villages that are created to protect the Albino. There is horrible tragedy happening around the Albinos. They are considered throw away kids. Paradoxically, they are given magical powers. So people are chasing Albinos to repudiate them or for their magical powers. I won’t go into the details. It’s really terrible what happens to these kids. So they created villages to protect them.” Kim has taken what seems to be a circuitous journey in telling his story. But it’s these kind of details that adds depth to a story, while adding to the whole narrative poignancy.

The main story line revolves around the horrors of children, specifically Rachel’s character, forced into civil war with its loss of childhood’s innocence and the dismemberment of family continuity. Finding a way to survive and retain her own identity under amazing pressures. While Rachel found the hardest part of acting in War Witch was making herself believe in her love interest for “The Magician”. It was hardest for her to imagine The Magician would be of any interest in her real life. Yet that interest was a vital element to her character finding identity and meaning in the hellish and profound story arch created by Kim. Kim said, “When she did these amazingly powerful and troubling scenes when she killed her parents. We would ask her how she got there. It was mostly in preparation we asked her. Of course, her psychiatric state was strong enough to deal with all these issues. It turned out it was almost a non-issue. Because she was a teenager at the time and she wasn’t like a 6 year old. Having been from the street of Kinshasa she was already used to those things. She knew all the issues in the script. What was amazing is what she said. We would ask her how did you get those scenes done. How did you nail them. She said, you know, I just think about my past and the sad things that happened to me and they come up. It’s pure actors studio method acting. We didn’t give her that, she came up with it herself.” Kim acknowledged it was Rachel’s street life experiences that gave her the power to pull off these moving performances in War Witch adding a unique level of credibility to the movie.

The round table interview gave me and the other journalist a solid overview of the making of War Witch: its story line and the inner workings that drove Rachel’s powerful performance and a keen view in the many facets of making a movie that has been honored by the Berlin and Tribeca Film Festivals that launched War Witch into the orbits of both the Independent Spirit Awards and an Oscar nominations. Kim and Rachel shared a powerful story. War Witch should be a beautiful and a very compelling experience when it hits three of the Laemmle Theaters here in Los Angeles on Friday: Laemmle Royal Theatre in Los Angeles, Laemmle Town Centre 5 in Encino and Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena this Friday.

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Billy Bennight

About Billy Bennight

Billy Bennight is a writer, photographer and wardrobe stylist with expertise and years of experience in these disciplines. His musical youth started as a Punk Rocker and has expanded in exploring many genres of music, with an keen interest in art, fashion, photography and writing. He's very engaged in life.
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