By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - "War Witch," a sensitive drama about a 12-year-old girl abducted by vicious armed rebels in sub-Saharan Africa, and a nonfiction film that examines the plight of women in modern India, won the top awards at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday.
"War Witch" picked up the jury prize for best narrative feature and best actress for Rachel Mwanza who plays the girl forced to become a child soldier, while "The World Before Her" that parallels women in the Miss India beauty pageant and a fundamentalist Hindu girls camp won best documentary.
But in a continuing strange saga of life imitating art at Tribeca, a Cuban actor starring in a film about defecting to the United States, who went missing in real life while en route to the festival, shared the top acting award.
Actor Javier Nunez Florian, who was last seen at Miami's airport during a stopover to the festival and disappeared along with his female costar Anailin de la Rua de la Torre from the film "Una Noche", did not show up to split his $2,500 award.
He shared the top acting honor with his male costar Dariel Arrechada, who turned up toward the end of the awards and was the only actor present at the film's premiere a week ago. Representatives for the film said this week no one from the film has had any contact with the missing Cubans.
"Una Noche," (One Night), which follows the journey of three Cuban teenagers trying to escape the poverty of their homeland to start a new life in Miami, also picked up the best cinematography award and best new narrative director for New York University film school graduate Lucy Mulloy.
"I'm sad for them because they are my friends," Arrechada told Reuters in broken English and Spanish after his win, referring to his missing fellow actors.
"I wish they were here, but . . . you could be happy for them, for Javier and for Anailin and for everyone. It's weird. I miss him."
Mulloy, a London-born 32-year-old who shot the low-budget film in Havana and was inspired by a tale she heard on a trip to the island nation 10 years ago, told Reuters she wished the missing actors could have been there.
"It would have been a great experience for them," she said. "I haven't heard from them. I just hope they are well and they are healthy."
Argentinian film "All In", a romantic comedy written and directed by Daniel Burman about a professional poker player, won best narrative screenplay, while best editing went to unusual Holocaust documentary "The Flat" from Israel.
The award for best new documentary director went to Dutch filmmaker Jeroen van Velzen for "Wavumba," a film set in Kenya that explores fishermen lore, while "The Revisionaries," which spotlights the politicizing of children's textbooks in Texas won a special mention from the Tribeca jury.
The majority of winning films reflected Tribeca's greater emphasis this year on showing films set in foreign lands. More than half of the films in the narrative feature category were international productions.
But the strange tale of "Una Noche" provided the biggest drama of the festival that began as a way to revive downtown Manhattan after the September 11 attacks.
Havana-based producer Sandy Perez Aguila told the Los Angeles Times earlier this week that upon reaching New York he opened the pair's suitcases and they were empty.
Arrechada said he hoped one day he would see his fellow actors again. And asked whether the winning prize money might lure her missing actors to New York after all, Mulloy said, "possibly, we'll see, I hope so".
She added: "Honestly, it's all happened so quickly ... it's a shock."
(Additional reporting by Tara Cleary, editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Elaine Lies)