(director: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine; cinematographer: Sean Fine; editor: Jeff Consiglio; music: Asche & Spencer; Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Albie Hecht; ThinkFilm; 2007)

The music offers the northern Ugandan children a chance to heal from their fear and pain–that part of the film cannot be questioned.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Visually pleasing documentary, shot on location in 2005, that tells a sad tale about how the ongoing war in Uganda for the last 20 years has deeply affected the population, especially the children. There’s a genocidal civil war raging in northern Uganda, where the Ugandan government is fighting against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA, the rebels). The rebels have raided defenseless farm communities and have killed the men, made sex slaves out of the women, and have abducted some 30,000 schoolchildren and forced them to be soldiers. There are some 200,000 children who are now orphans because of the war. This war has received little world attention, and for that reason alone this overly familiar type of inspirational documentary, with a formulaic underdog sports story theme, might be questionable but that the film’s true story is beyond criticism. In the very least, married filmmakers Sean and Andrea Nix Fine’s positive documentary calls attention to westerners what an evil place the world could be without law and order and relates how music can be a cathartic spiritual awakening to those children who are so brutalized by the war.

The bloodthirsty rebels forced an estimated 2 million members of the peaceful Acholi tribe — roughly 90 percent — from their ancestral lands into government-protected refugee camps, where the native people are refugees in their own country. The film will follow three of the traumatized but resilient children, who live in the Patongo Displacement Camp which offers shelter to 60,000 refugees. For the children, the music acts as a therapy for their hardships and the annual National Music Competition, held in the capital city of Kampala, is one of the few signs of hope in their lives. Groups from over 20,000 Ugandan primary schools perform in regional competitions, hoping to be among the few selected to compete in the finals. The film has the children talk into the camera (they seem posed and scripted) and tell their tales of woe (some with tears), and it then follows them in their rehearsals with their teachers and in the final competition.

The war-torn country’s suffering is diluted so that the film is more palatable to a public thriving more on being entertained by a talent show than informed. Nevertheless this documentary does both, but is more effective as a crowd pleasing entertainment spectacle of dance (featuring the traditional dance of the Bwola), song and instrumental (one of the children is expert on the xylophone) than for its political commentary–so that the interested viewer would have to look elsewhere to find out the reasons for the war and more details on this Third World country’s desperate situation. In any case, the music offers the northern Ugandan children a chance to heal from their fear and pain– that part of the film cannot be questioned. It won the documentary directing prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

War Dance Poster