In September of 2008, the Bridal Veil Film Festival in Provo, Utah, brought international cinema into the outdoors. The outdoor movie festival featured visually stunning films from all over the world, including the critically acclaimed "War Dance", from the war-torn nation of Uganda. "War Dance" was an especially important feature of the outdoor film festival, as the proceeds from the festival were donated to the Rwanda Cinema Center, an organization that works toward giving Africans the tools to tell their own stories with film. "War Dance" is one of the few films accurately depicting the plight of civilians in the war zones of East Africa, yet also manages to achieve an artistry in its cinematic storytelling. The following is a review of "War Dance" by Philip Marchand, of the Toronto Star. You can read the original blog post about the outdoor movie event here.
"Our home was so beautiful, so nice to look at," the girl named Nancy tells the audience in a mournful voice. As if to corroborate her words, the camera shows us the paradisiacal landscape of northern Uganda where Nancy grew up, with its green savannah and luxuriant, graceful trees under a yellow sky.
Rebel soldiers from a band called the Lord's Resistance Army invaded that landscape not long ago in search of children to abduct. They hacked Nancy's father with machetes and then made her mother pick up the pieces and bury them.
"There was thunder and lightning and then pitch black," Nancy continues, in her relation of that terrible event, and again the movie echoes her words, filling the screen with thunder and lightning and obliterating darkness.
But there's more light than dark in this documentary, which records the efforts of children, living in the northern Uganda refugee camp of Patongo, to participate in their country's National Music Competition. The focus is on three of these children Nancy, 14, Rose, 13, and Dominic, 14. Rose lost both her parents in this 20-year-old civil war. Dominic was abducted by the army and forced to kill two farmers by smashing their heads with a hoe.
They are heartbreaking figures. Rose labours under the harsh care of her aunt, who does not want her to be in the competition because it will take time away from her endless chores. Dominic is haunted by guilt over the murders he committed.
Music is their salvation. "I love the xylophone," says Dominic, who summons joy with his makeshift, wooden instrument. "It helps me forget the bad things that happened to me in the past."
The story of their competition is so much the stuff of an inspirational Hollywood movie that the restraint of the directors, who make sensitive and sparing use of background music and a measured pace, the camera focusing on the faces of the children and the adults who teach them.
Every filmed encounter is an invitation to contemplate human emotion the bitter sigh, and the slightly dazed look of Nancy's mother after she tells her daughter that she must accept her father's death; the subdued voice and posture of Dominic as he politely asks a captured member of the resistance army why he and his fellow soldiers abducted children.
"When you have more children, you have more power," the prisoner replies, as if describing a sad necessity of this life.
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places," Hemingway wrote in A Farewell to Arms. That statement might stand as the summation of this documentary, which celebrates the strength of winsome, broken children.
Source: "'War/Dance': Robbed of childhood" by Philip Marchand, Toronto Star. Read full review at: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/Movies/article/305834