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The Marines of Echo Company
This superb documentary shows Acholi children from one village in the war zones of northern Uganda, who diligently prepare for the national musical and cultural competition in far-off and far-safer Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
While they try hard to succeed, they are beset by the constant danger of abduction at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army (MRA), which is led by a religious fanatic (and part-time mystic and fortune-teller) named Joseph Kony, who started an uprising against the Ugandan army in 1986, pledging to turn the country into a theocracy with a constitution loosely based on the Ten Commandments.
Kony's army has abducted more than 30,000 children in northern Uganda and forced them to be soldiers and killers of their own tribal members. More than 200,000 children in northern Uganda have been orphaned because their parents were murdered. The LRA's 20-year war against the central government's Ugandan People's Defence Forces (UPDF), has left at least two million Ugandans displaced from their homes. Meanwhile, even in so-called 'safe camps,' where countless thousands live amid squalor and disease and depend on the United Nations food program, the UPDF still doesn't provide adequate protection.
It is wonderful to watch these determined children turn on their smiles and their brilliant talents as they prepare for, and participate in, the national competition. When they arrive in Kampala (southern Uganda, where no warfare takes place), they are overwhelmed to see skyscrapers; they had never seen buildings before.
Writers/directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix have done a great job of conveying the wondrous dreams of young people, along with the terrible ordeals they face in a savage, senseless war that sees no end. One youth, in a stunning story of barbarism, recounts how he was ordered to butcher three farmers with a hoe, and if he looked away at any time, he himself would have been murdered. Such is the barbarism that exists in northern Uganda today, much of it all but unknown to us in the West.
To make matters worse, there is blatant corruption in the central government itself, which enacted legislation in 2005 that will allow the corrupt lowlife Yoweri Musevini (elected in 1986) to be president-for-life. There are strong hints that he and Kony have an 'arrangement' to continue the war because it advances both of their 'causes,' although those 'causes' are not always readily apparent. Neither of these two lunatics appears to give a damn about the terrible pain they have inflicted on their own people.
Another equally powerful documentary on this same subject is 'The Other Side of the Country' (2006), by Quebec filmmaker Catherine Hebert. This very disturbing film concentrates more on the older (and even aged) northern Ugandans who are displaced from their homes by war and forced to live out their lives in teeming, treacherous 'relocation' camps, which are really nothing more than disease-infested examples of the worst kinds of slums.
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