War Witch is a 2012 war drama directed by Canadian director Kim Nguyen, starring Rachel Mwanza, Serge Kanyinda and Alain Bastien.
It centers around 12 year old Komona, who is abducted from her village to become a child soldier during a civil war in Africa (it is not stated exactly where, but there are strong suggestions that it is set in the Democratic Republic of Congo). As is tradition, she is initiated by being forced to kill her parents, and the movie follows her experience after this traumatic event.
All the facets of being a child soldier are presented, from the new found friendships to the physical abuse, from the drug induced hallucinations to the psychological trauma. This deep insight into the life of a child soldier is what makes the film worthwhile. There is no glamorization, and it is a challenging watch, often cringe inducing. More than crying about the situation of the protagonists, we are invited to celebrate their strength and to root for their liberation. The camera doesn't allow for a pitiful gaze, mainly because the people the characters reflect don't pity themselves, they do with what they have and strive to push forward.
Personally, I found this a refreshing film. It is a contrast to the "white savior" films we often see, the likes of "Machine Gun Preacher", where we are presented with helpless children in need of foreign help, with no agency of their own - a portrayal of child soldiers from the point of view of everyone but the child soldiers. War Witch is narrated by a girl, it is a story from her point of view about herself, from start to finish. The film prompts deep reflection on current events, but also laughter during those few moments where the protagonists attempt to pursue friendship, love, and happiness in the face of chaos and despair.
It was nominated for an Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film 2013). For a full list of the awards it won and was nominated for, click here.