Two Canadian films were top winners at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on Thursday evening.
War Witch, the story of an African child soldier, directed by Montreal filmmaker Kim Nguyen, won best film in the world narrative category.
Also, the film's 15-year-old star Rachel Mwanza was named best actress in a narrative feature film.
Nguyen shot War Witch in the Congo, where his young lead was previously living on the streets. Mwanza, who earlier won best actress at the Berlin Film Festival, plays a girl kidnapped by rebels, forced into life as a child soldier and concubine of a rebel leader.
The jury said Mwanza "so fully inhabits her role that there are no borders to her stunning performance, no distance at all between the actress and the unforgettable character Komona."
Promoting the film in Montreal last week, Nguyen told CBC News he discovered Mwanza after watching a documentary about people living on the streets of Kinshasa. She had never acted before, but comes across as fully genuine in the difficult role, he added.
"She could go in all of these emotions, happiness as well as sadness. So, I just asked her and she said she just relates to things she lived in the past,” Nguyen said.
The World Before Her, directed by Canadian Nisha Pahuja, was named best documentary feature.
The film juxtaposes the lives of Indian girls pursuing pageant glory as Miss India with those participating in a Hindu fundamentalist movement.
"The filmmaker takes us on a journey to examine how the pressures of faith, fashion and family are bringing up a generation of women who are desperately searching for meaning amidst a reality of few real choices," the jury said.
In an recent interview with CBC News, Toronto-based filmmaker Pahuja said her film "reveals one of the key divisions in the country. India is at a kind of precipice — it's kind of deciding whether it's going to become modern and secular — it is secular but not quite — or whether it is going to back to tradition and have religion play a key role in politics."
Winning drama becomes reality
The U.S., U.K. and Cuban film Una Noche was also a major winner, with Dariel Arrechada and Javier Nunez Florian sharing the title of best actor, director Lucy Mulloy named best new narrative director and wins for Una Nocha's cinematography and photography.
The drama, about poor Cuban teenagers who decide to defect to the U.S., became reality when it emerged that Cuban actor Florian and a fellow performer — actress Analin de la Rua de la Torre — disappeared in Miami during a layover while en route from Havana to New York for the festival. They are presumed to have defected.
Other Tribeca winners include:
- New documentary director: Jeroen van Velzen (the Netherlands) for Wavumba.
- Editing, documentary feature: The Flat (Hadira), directed by Arnon Goldfinger (Israel, Germany).
- Screenplay, narrative feature: All In (La Suerte en Tus Manos), directed by Daniel Burman (Argentina).
- Narrative short: Asad, directed by Bryan Buckley (U.S.).
- Documentary short: Paraiso, directed by Nadav Kurtz (U.S.).
- Student visionary award: Stitches, directed by Adiya Imri Orr (Israel).
"We salute the courage of the jury to award films that not only tell stories about real issues in the world, but are beautifully constructed and crafted," Tribeca artistic director Frederic Boyer said in a statement.
"The amazing first-time performances by young actors are a tribute to the creativity of the films and filmmakers."
The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in 2002 following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center to re-energize the TriBeCa neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan. This year's event ends Sunday, when organizers will screen the winning films at various venues all day.