A spate of new documentaries has been shining a spotlight on the atrocities in Africa. October gave us The Devil Came on Horseback, and last week was Darfur Now. Both films focus on the genocide in Sudan, mainly through the eyes of activists chipping away at the huge, complicated problems. Now War/Dance turns the lens on Uganda, where for the past 20 years the Lord's Resistance Army has waged war on innocent tribes people. Unfortunately, the children have been the greatest victims, forced into sexual slavery, to become child soldiers, or to witness their parents being tortured to death in front of their eyes.
Instead of the redemptive power of activists seen in earlier documentaries, War/Dance focuses on the redemptive power of art. The students at Patongo Primary School, situated in a Northern Uganda refugee camp, have earned an unprecedented chance to compete in "The National Music Competition." This annual event, held in the capital city of Kampala, draws tens of thousands of students from around the nation to compete with instruments, dance, and song. The Patongo students have to travel 200 miles over two days through rebel territory to even get to Kampala, a place full of sights and attractions—such as airplanes and skyscrapers, electricity and running water—they've never beheld before. As one of the students says before the trip, "I can't wait to see what peace looks like."
At first blush, War/Dance looks like the Ugandan version of Mad Hot Ballroom, the 2005 documentary highlighting an after-school dance program for New York's inner-city middle schoolers. There are certainly similar themes of ravaged young lives finding new hope and joy through dance. In both movies, it's delightful to see bright smiles ...1
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