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Canada's 'Rebelle' makes latest cut on road to Academy Award nomination

"Rebelle'' _ "War Witch'' in English _ from Montreal-born director Kim Nguyen is continuing on the road to an Academy Award. The film has made a list of nine titles that will vie for the Oscar for best foreign-language film. Rachel Mwanza is shown in a scene from "War Witch," in this image released by the Tribeca Film Festival. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Tribeca Film Festival

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Montreal-born Kim Nguyen was “ecstatic” Friday after learning that his war-torn drama “Rebelle” is one step closer to an Oscar nomination.

The film — called “War Witch” in English — made a nine film short list announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“I’m just in a surreal mode right now realizing that I’m on the list with such great filmmakers as Michael Haneke (who directed the shortlisted Austrian film ‘Amour,'” Nguyen said during a conference call with journalists.

“It’s been a really amazing ride for the last year, travelling to almost three countries a month (to screen and promote the movie), just recently going around the world from India to L.A. to Montreal.”

The final five nominees will be announced Jan. 10.

Nguyen got the good news Friday morning when his BlackBerry was barraged with a stream of congratulatory messages.

“Rebelle” is a grim drama about the lives of child soldiers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nguyen penned the story over the course of a decade, inspired by an article about nine-year-old Burmese twin brothers who led an army of rebels.

He shot it in Congo with a cast that included several local first-time actors, including then 14-year-old Rachel Mwanza, who plays a young female soldier who is forced into becoming a sex slave for a rebel commander. Her performance won prizes at the Tribeca and Berlin film festivals.

When he learned earlier this fall that his film had been chosen as Canada’s candidate for best foreign-language Oscar consideration, Nguyen turned to fellow Quebec filmmaker Philippe Falardeau, whose “Monsieur Lazhar” was in the running for the same Academy Award earlier this year.

“I called Philippe as soon as we had something going because it’s really like a political campaign,” said Nguyen, who added Falardeau was generous with advice on the behind-the-scenes process.

“Obviously you have to have prior recognition worldwide to be considered for the Oscars but then after that there’s a whole, I guess, soft politics thing you have to do … to make sure everybody knows it’s there and should go and see it,” he said.

That meant getting the “right” people to see the movie, doing publicity to raise the film’s profile, and working with bloggers to build online buzz.

The other seven films left in the foreign-language Oscar race are Chile’s “No”; Denmark’s “A Royal Affair”; France’s “The Intouchables”; Iceland’s “The Deep”; Norway’s “Kon-Tiki”; Romania’s “Beyond the Hills” and Switzerland’s “Sister.”

The Oscars, to be hosted by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, take place Feb. 24.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had an incorrect date for the Oscar nominations.