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Star Of The Oscar Nominated Canadian Film ‘War Witch’ Is Granted Visa To Go To The Oscars
February 21, 2013
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As you probably know, the Oscars are coming up this Sunday - a night where Hollywood celebrates itself to the max.

The talent, the glamour, the fashion, and of course, the best films, performances and work of the past year.

But for all the star power, there are also lesser known stories that inspire and go beyond the making of a film.

Rachel Mwanza is one of them.

She plays a child soldier in the Oscar-nominated Canadian film War Witch, (entitled Rebelle in French).

Mwanza is 16 and lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For weeks, the producers have been working to get her a visa so she can go to the Academy Awards, and the Canadian Screen Awards in March.

Well, all of the papers have come through and Mwanza is now free to come to the U.S. and Canada.

In a statement released by Tribeca Film, War Witch director Kim Nguyen said "To have her journey end on the red carpet is beyond anything she could have dreamed of."

"She's traveled to Paris, Berlin and Canada for the opening of the film, but I think this coming to Hollywood tops it all for her," co-producer Marie-Claude Poulin told The L.A. Times.

Poulin also told the paper they're trying to find a way for Mwanza to meet Beyonce, who is her idol.

"That's all she talks about," Poulin said. "The only English words she knows are Beyonce and Rihanna songs."

In War Witch, Mwanza plays a 12-year-old who is kidnapped from her village, forced to kill her parents and become a child soldier.

The film is nominated for best foreign-language film. It's also up for best international film at the Independent Spirit Awards, the night before the Oscars.

Here's the trailer.

Nguyen, who's from Montreal, will be in the red chair in a few weeks.

He shot the entire film in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011, with many first-time actors, including Mwanza.

A few years ago, she was a street kid in the capital Kinshasa - one of several hundred thousand in the city. She spent about three years on her own.

Mwanza and her siblings were abandoned by their parents. When she was 6-years-old, her grandmother took her in, only to lose her job.

"She just told them: I can't feed you. You have more chances in the street than staying with me," said co-producer Pierre Even.

Even, Nguyen and Poulin first saw Mwanza in a documentary.

Even told the Canadian Press he knew Mwanza was special as soon as he saw her, calling her "one in a million."

Eventually, he and Nguyen went to Kinshasa to meet her and they cast her right away.

Mwanza had never been to school and couldn't read or write. But now, Even, Poulin and Nguyen are paying for her education and for a place for her to live until she turns 18.

"She's intelligent and she knows that she has to work hard because she's way behind other kids of her age," Even told CP.

"But she knows that and she really wants to learn because she wants to change her life and do something with her life."

Along with the Oscars, Mwanza will go to the Canadian Screen Awards on March 3 in Toronto (where War Witch has 12 nominations) and Quebec's Jutra Awards on March 17 (where it's up for 9 awards).

Mwanza herself is nominated for her performance at both shows. She's already won best actress awards at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival.

Meantime, two other young actors from Afghanistan will be at the Oscars too.

Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz, both 14, star in Buzkashi Boys, which is nominated in the live-action short category.

The stars of Buzkashi Boys, Fawad Mohammadi (L) and Jawanmard Paiz with director Sam French - Reuters photo

The film is about two best friends, who dream about playing buzkashi - Afghanistan's national sport.

As the L.A. Times writes, "The game has been called a wild version of polo, in which horsemen vie for a goat's carcass" and carry it across a goal line.

Jawanmard has been making movies since he was two years old. But Fawad had never acted before.

He sells maps on the streets of Kabul to help support his mother, five brothers and a sister. His father died several years ago.

One day, he hopes to become a pilot.

The producers launched an internet campaign on to raise money to fly the boys to Hollywood.

They beat their goal of $10,000 - raising $11,751.

237 people from 13 countries - including the United States, Afghanistan, India and Germany - donated money, according to

Turkish Airlines paid for the boys' tickets, and that of a chaperone.

"I'm so happy and excited," Mohammadi told Reuters after he arrived in Los Angeles. "I can't say my feelings."

"I want to see Rambo, Sylvester Stallone," he said.

Buzkashi Boys was shot entirely in Kabul in just over two weeks in 2011. It was directed by American Sam French, who told the L.A. Times he wanted to show another side of Afghanistan than the one portrayed in news reports.

It is the first film to be produced by the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit group that French started to train filmmakers in Afghanistan.

Here's the trailer and the website for the film.

Related stories

The Canadian Screen Awards Nominations Are In: 'Rebelle' Gets 12 Noms & George Is Up For An Award

The Oscar Nominations Are In... Some Canadians & Friends Of The Show Made The List


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