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The current state of the world is bleak. The news constantly barrages us with stories of global warming, war in Iraq, oil shortages, conditions in China surrounding the Olympics, the downward spiral of the American economy, Darfur, and the list seems to get longer every day. The pictures that we see in the media of these conditions leave us with feelings of hopelessness. There’s so much going wrong, what can we do? In Northern Uganda, there has been a war raging for twenty years. This war has claimed the lives of thousands and continues to affect the people that live there every day. Despite the horrendous things that have happened, there are children who still have hope and joy in their lives. The only thing in this world that can help them rise above the despair is music.
War Dance is the Academy award nominated documentary that chronicles the lives of children living in a government run camp, where they can be safe from the rebels and the war raging just outside the camp walls. The school they attend at the camp is called Patongo Private School and they are preparing for the Uganda National Music Competition held every year in Kampala City. This is the biggest music competition in the country with 20,000 schools competing in 5 categories. This is a big deal. For the children of Patongo, this is completely out of their comfort zone. Going to the competition means going to a big city. With competition, it means being vulnerable with the embarrassing chance of messing up and causing everyone to lose.
The brilliant filmmakers behind War Dance have chosen to spotlight three students from Patongo as they prepare for the competition. They are each introduced by telling us their background and how they ended up at the camp. The first is Nancy, who lost her father to the rebels. The second is Dominic, who was abducted by the rebels and was forced to do horrible things by them. He plays the xylophone and dreams of being a professional musician. The last is Rose, a beautiful, quiet girl who lost both parents to the rebels. She has to live with her aunt who treats her more like a slave than like family. Each child’s story adds dimension to the film and brings the audience closer to understanding the things going on in Uganda. During the scenes where they are all practicing or playing their music, the looks on their faces are purely joyful even though every child at this camp has a story like Nancy’s, like Dominic’s, like Rose’s.
The message of enduring hope is not only shown through the music, but it is shown through the colors in this film. The country is war-torn and impoverished, but the colors that the children wear, that the people of the Acholi tribe wear while singing and performing their songs and dances are so shockingly vibrant, they stand out like a patch of wildflowers in a field. The Patongo uniforms are a bright blue and this color perfectly compliments the dark skin of the children. Even when showing scenes of the fragile Uganda landscape, the cinematography is stunning.
This is unlike any documentary in recent memory. Instead of trying to dampen the impressions of a specific aspect of our culture, War Dance introduces us to a completely different culture and shows us a people who are to be admired for their courage. This is a film that is both saddening and uplifting, while still giving hope.
The movie is stunningly spectacular. I’ve mentioned before that the colors are perfect in their contrast and the 1.78:1 aspect ratio is a perfect choice to compliment this. On this DVD, you have your choice of either Fullscreen or Widescreen presentation. A great deal of the movie is spoken in the Acholi tribe’s native tongue and with English subtitles, but the sound is brilliant. The Dolby Digital sound only enhances the music of these people.
The only extra included are 6 Deleted and Extended Scenes. Most of these scenes are actually very worth watching. A few of them focus more on Dominic: one shows him shopping with his mother for new clothes to go to the competition, one shows Dominic having a xylophone lesson with a professional xylophone player. These are very good and give more depth to what we’ve seen of him. One very interesting deleted scene talks about the history of Uganda, who the rebels are, and why they are there.
Aside from the Theatrical trailer, other trailers include: Academy Award winning documentary Taxi To the Dark Side, Nanking, and the Ron Howard directed documentary In the Shadow of the Moon.
War Dance has left quite an impression on me. This is one of the better documentaries I’ve seen in awhile. The horror and the beauty of the current events in Uganda are sure to leave a lasting impression on you, too.
Velocity/ThinkFilm presents War Dance. Directed by Andrea Nix & Sean Fine. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: April 15, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.