Nominated at the 2008 Oscars in the Best Documentary category, it is easy to see why WAR DANCE was on top of that list. Although it lost out to TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, War Dance need not hang its head.
Little known subjects are a great thing to learn about, and this is War Dance's biggest strength. The civil war in Uganda has raged for over 20 years, but few know what it's about or its effects on the population. One look at War Dance will give you some chilling insights.
Focusing on three children within the Patongo refugee camp of northern Uganda, all of the kids have lost at least one parent, sibling or family member to the horrors of the war, and have been forced into this government protected camp for basic survival. Life is dank, depressing, and full of fear. Until one day the children discover that their little school has qualified for the finals at the annual Kampala Music Festival. And with them will go Dominic, a boy forced into being a child soldier for the rebels and desperately trying to locate his lost brother. A gripping scene between himself and a rebel leader tells Dominic much of what he already suspected. Nancy, a tough young lady, will go the Kampala, too. And with her she brings the hopes and dreams of her father who was hacked to death by machetes (the visit to his grave is sure to have many reaching for the tissue box). Then we have Rose, the soft-spoken one who is obviously in a funk of depression. But to watch her dance is to see the lights burst forth from her eyes.
The documentary is exceptionally well put together. The cinematography of the surrounding jungle is awe-inspiring, as are the tough scenes where children are put in front of the camera and asked to explain how they feel ("I can't wait to see what peace looks like," says one of them as they prepare to compete in Kampala).
Shown as a sort of David and Goliath tale, one can't help but see the infiltration of Christianity on these people's lives, too. Their clothing, their "prayers", and many other aspects speak to the westernization of their culture. One of the competition categories is even called "Western Choral Music." But the big winner in the categories is obviously the native dance sequence where Dominic shines as the xylophone player, Nancy dances and spins with delight, and Rose comes back to life. The other schools, initially sneering at this "tiny school from the north", begin to respect them.
But can these first timers win anything at a festival where they compete against schools of much greater renown? You'll have to watch and find out. And you should. The tales of torture mixed with the joy of music and dance are something everyone should see. And you might even learn something you didn't know about in another part of the world.
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