I was recently sent a copy of the War/Dance DVD review, and delighted I was: the documentary, about war-torn Uganda, was nominated for an Academy Award.
War/Dance, directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix, focuses on several children who live in a displacement camp in northern Uganda. Their region is filled with rebels who rape, pillage, murder, torture and kidnap, and all have grown up with the sounds of gunfire as a way of life. Many of their parents and friends have been killed or kidnapped; some don't even know if their family members are still alive. Despite their misery, they do find solace in at least one thing: dancing.
Apparently, dancing is a big thing in Uganda. I'm not a huge fan of dancing myself, being neither good nor bad enough to stand out. When given a choice between dancing or sitting on the sideline watching the pretty girls like a desperate loser, I choose the latter. But these Ugandan kids... they sure seem to like to dance. Of course, dance has a different meaning over there, at least in regards to this movie. Each region has its own cultural dance style, and it's a sense of pride and cultural unity. Furthermore, the country has a national dance-off championship, where schools from all over compete for the top prize. And this year is the first year that this poor and war-torn village has had the honor to send their team to the championship.
The movie is a mix of dance competition and war stories, and the blend works moderately well. However, since I'm not into dancing all that much - including cultural African dancing - I found the stories about how these kids survived and witnesses brutal murders much more interesting. One kid in particular was actually kidnapped by the rebels and forced to do things - like shoot innocents - while in captivity. The story is haunting (especially since he hadn't even told his mother) and I would have loved for the filmmakers to dive more into his past. Some of the other children have tragically interesting stories as well.
The problem with War/Dance is also its saving grace; Fine and Nix could have gone one route and focused entirely on the tragic circumstances of northern Uganda, an approach I would have much preferred. But, then, War/Dance would be just like a dozen other pictures of a similar nature. And the title wouldn't make any sense. So the addition of a dance competition is a refreshing one, even if it isn't nearly as captivating of a focus.
Beyond the subject, War/Dance is a well done, pretty film. The stories told within make this a worthy documentary, but even with its focus on dance, there is nothing so unique that sets this apart from the rest.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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