The directors of War Dance, Sean Fines and Andrea Nix Fine, travelled to the area with the intention of making a film about the problems of Northern Uganda and found the children of Acholi, the tribe most affected by the strife.
The film follows the lives of 3 children (Dominic, Nancy and Rose) from one of the schools in a displaced persons camp as the school prepares and competes in Uganda’s national music and dance competition.
The film relies on the tried and proven method often used in sports movies. The picture is painted that this group is the underdog in the competition and it follows their road to triumph. Whilst this could be argued to be cliché, I think it provides a nice and accesible narrative to the bigger point of the documentary – the life stories of the children.
The film does a good job of bringing the stories of the children to the screen and it uses the narrative of the competition to do it in a way that makes it accesible to audiences that might not otherwise sit down to hear the destruction that has occurred in the lives of these young people. The competition gives an intense account of pain an air of palatability for those who may be unfamiliar with such stories.
The life stories of the children are heart wrenching. One can only walk away wondering how these kids are still alive, from watching parents being killed in front of them and being abducted by rebel soldiers, to, in the case of Dominic, being forced to bludgeon innocent people to death by beating them in the head with a blunt hoe.
In telling the stories of the children, there were two parts that really impacted me. It was hard to watch Nancy return to the grave of her father for the first time, accompanied by her mother. Nancy broke down and cried uncontrolably. Her grief was there on the screen for all to see and she didn’t hold back. In contrast her mother held herself together. She was clearly a woman seasoned with pain and a desire for her daughter to cope better. Though her exterior was harder, it was still easy to see her brokenness.
The other was watching Dominic head to the military base where a rebel soldier was being held. He met with the soldier to try and find out if his older brother whom had been abducted at the same time as he, was still alive. It was moving watching someone so young who had been through so much, asking questions so openly. He dealt with conflict well.
The cinematograhy in the film was breathtaking. Whoever was doing the shooting of the film was clearly extremely talented. The impression of Northern Uganda was so beautiful that some may argue that it detracts from the stories. I would argue that it serves the same purpose as the narrative of the music competition, it allows the audience to hear the stories of the children where something more gritty and more harrowing may turn them off before they even get in front of the screen.
The thing I most loved about War Dance was its expression of hope. Is life in Uganda still hard for these children? Yes. The music and dance competition did not change that. Their reality is still gritty, dusty, risk laden and difficult, but the competition provided a sense of redemption amongst the darkness. In the face of their harsh reality it gave them something to focus on, something they could be good at. It provided some light in the shadows and in that sense, in the face of all the problems of Northern Uganda, it showed that hope can exist in even the most desparate of circumstances. It showed that we human beings can find even the smallest things to give us wonder and a reason to keep going.
War Dance will go down as one of my favourites for 2008.
Reviewed by: Frank Ritchie
Release Date: November 20th, 2008
Length (Minutes): 107
Media Format: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.78 : 1
Supported Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo