think tank

Song and 'Dance' man has message for kids

One of my running gags as the Hollywood Reporter is that I only write about film once a year, when the Library of Congress releases its annual film list. Well, I'm cracking that little chestnut today because I just can't shut up about the documentary "War/Dance."

Despite being on the shortlist for an Oscar, "War/Dance" is a tough sell. I should know, I've been flacking it hard. I wouldn't have gone to see it except that Gayle Osterberg, a founding partner of 133 Public Affairs, invited me, and as one of Gayle's groupies, I couldn't say no.

I'm glad I saw it, and I want all my friends to see it too. But when I tell them about this amazing movie about these amazing children in a Ugandan refugee camp, they say no way. Even when I tell them about the music and that they'll leave uplifted, I can't get through.

I was thinking about the movie when I was the guest lecturer at my son's school, Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School. I was such a hit on career day, they invited me back. This time I was expected to talk to a sixth-grade class about copyright law.

Think Tank fans know of my unbridled enthusiasm for the Founding Fathers. With all their faults and inconsistencies, they were brilliant. As incredible as they were individually, as a group they changed the world. Kind of like the Beatles.

As I was expounding on the Enlightenment and why a bunch of dead white guys thought they needed to write Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 into the Constitution, I looked down at one of the girls in the class. She looked so much like the girls in the Patongo camp that I was tempted to ask if her parents came from Uganda.

Funny thing about smiling children: They make you feel so much better. Funny thing about sixth graders: They ask tons of questions. I guess they're still young enough to be engaged and not so old that the ultimate interpretation of cool is a stony silence.

Being a parent, I'm also convinced that several of them illegally download. It doesn't take a genius to know that when a kid asks what would happen if his/her cousin's sister's brother's uncle's mother-in-law came over to his/her house and downloaded 1,236,362 songs onto his/her hard drive, they really aren't talking about his/her cousin's sister's brother's uncle's mother-in-law.

When faced with that question, I did what any good parent would do. I scared them. I told them that it wasn't them or their cousin's sister's brother's uncle's mother-in-law that would have to pay the copyright holders thousands of dollars to settle an infringement lawsuit, but their moms and dads.

I'm not sure that worked because they then asked me about erasing all the songs and movies their cousin's sister's brother's uncle's mother-in-law had downloaded. I told them that anything downloaded on a computer could be reconstructed. This launched a discussion over whether grinding, burning, chopping, bashing or dropping a computer into the Potomac would cover their cousin's sisters' brother's uncle's mother-in-law's tracks. I had to cut them off by telling them that destruction of evidence is a crime.

Which brings me back to the kids from Patongo and "War/Dance" — a movie about kids and music. The kids in Patongo had to overcome incredible odds just to make some music, but over here we're worried about stealing it. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.