EmptyPARK CITY -- The ongoing rebel conflict in northern Uganda forms the backdrop for Sundance Film Festival documentary directing award-winner "War/Dance," a refreshingly upbeat film that finds its roots in some seriously sobering events. THINKFilm's theatrical release will capture the hearts and minds of art house audiences before a promising campaign on DVD.
The Lord's Resistance Army of rebels draws its ranks from the children of rural Uganda, kidnapping kids from their villages and forcing boys to become child soldiers and girls into sexual slavery. Many are compelled to kill relatives or neighbors, or watch their families murdered, becoming severely traumatized as a result.
For those who escape the rebel army, refugee camps are often their only way to survive after the decimation of their villages and families. The Patongo Displacement Camp shelters 60,000 refugees under constant military guard, providing a semblance of normalcy where kids can attend school and try to rebuild their shattered lives.
Xylophone player Dominic, dancer Nancy and chorister Rose -- all in their early teens -- become the focus of Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine's revealing documentary as they join the other students of the Patongo Primary School in preparing to compete in the prestigious National Music Competition. Their tragic stories of murder, abuse and loss provide the background for the school's quest to compete in the nationwide showcase for the first time.
Shooting in hi-def, the filmmakers favor a confessional, direct-address style in the kids' interviews that creates an intimacy with the audience that would be lost with more conventional framing. Artistically composed cutaways of the stunning landscape surrounding the camp and dynamic sequences of the school's enthusiastic music rehearsals provide a welcome contrast to the children's wrenching tales of terror.
However, shots that appear too smoothly executed and interviews that seem overly rehearsed are a reminder that the film could have benefited from a more realistic depiction of the squalor of the kids' lives and the harsh reality of the refugee encampment (which lacks sanitation, running water and electricity).
Nonetheless, the rooting factor is high by the time the Patongo students arrive in the capital of Kampala for the national competition, where the moderately predictable outcome still forms a nicely nuanced conclusion.
While the title is evocative within the context of the film, it could prove confusing to audiences who associate it with the unrelated phrase "war dance." At 105 minutes, the overall length might benefit from some trimming.
A Fine Films Production in association with Shine Global
Running time -- 105 minutes
No MPAA rating