War/Dance
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
In many areas on the African continent, there has been internecine warfare. Civil
war is not an uncommon event and in recent years filmmakers have addressed
these events in fact-based or fictional feature films ranging from
HOTEL
RWANDA
to BLOOD DIAMOND to BEYOND THE GATES. The husband and
wife team of Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine have trained their cameras on the
area of Northern Uganda for the affecting nonfiction film
WAR/DANCE which has
played the festival circuit and earned particular notice at the 2007 Sundance Film
Festival.

The film profiles a handful of students who attend primary school at the Patongo
refugee camp in Northern Uganda. The residence of this camp live in conditions
that are atrocious -- no electricity, no running water, etc. The children have survived
horrific conditions. Rose witnessed the brutal murder of her parents and is now
forced to live with relatives who treat her like an indenture servant.  Dominic was
abducted by rebel forces and conscripted into service and made to kill. Nancy
struggles to care for her younger siblings while her mother is off earning a meager
living.

The three children each recount their stories and in some ways, this is one of the
weaker parts of the movie, partly because some of the scenes have the feeling of
being staged. What the youngsters recount are difficult to listen to and extremely
moving, but the fact that the movie makers undercut it with sequences of them in
fields or standing by burnt out houses dilutes the power of their words.

WAR/DANCE shifts its focus a bit when it concentrates on how the students at
Patongo Primary School prepare for a nationwide music competition held in
Kampala. Rose performs in the choir, Dominic plays the xylophone, and Nancy is
a dancer. The filmmakers follow the students' progress from rehearsals to the
perilous journey through rebel-controlled areas to Kampala, where they are one
among 20,000 schools that participate in the National Music Competition.

At this point, the film turns into something of the standard documentary about kids
competing (not unlike
SPELLBOUND or MAD HOT BALLROOM). Still, there is
an infectious joy watching these underprivileged children as they perform. There's
also something moving about watching them arrive in the city and enjoying the
freedoms that are available -- most of these youngsters were visiting a city for the
first time in their lives. The culminating effect is moving and touching.

WAR/DANCE treads a fine line and sometimes crosses over into a questionable
area -- those seemingly staged sequences gnawed at my psyche --
but ultimately it proves to be a worthy reminder of just what can be accomplished
when children are given the slightest encouragement. Given the American school
system's lack of support for arts programs, this movie should be required viewing
for anyone in a position to make funding decisions as it proves the transformative
aspects of art.


                       Rating:                B +
Students from Patongo School performing the Bwola, a traditional
Ugandan dance, during a nationwide competition in
WAR/DANCE

Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, US, 2007; 105m

© 2006 Think Film Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.