The superb documentary War/Dance reveals the redemptive power of music, even in the most horrific places. Focusing on three children in their early teens in war-torn Uganda–stoic Nancy, driven Dominic, and soft-spoken Rose–War/Dance tracks the efforts of the school of a refugee camp called Patongo to compete in Uganda’s countrywide music competition.
The contrasts are staggering; in interviews, the children describe their parents being killed by rebel soldiers, then footage of rehearsal shows them joyfully singing and dancing with their classmates. Some of the sequences are harrowing (a scene where Nancy grieves for her murdered father is painful to watch), but without them, we wouldn’t understand how hard-won are the feelings of pride and accomplishment as their school performs for the competition’s judges. The built-in structure of the competition gives this documentary a clear and engrossing storyline, much like Spellbound or Mad Hot Ballroom, but the heartbreaking circumstances and the emotional openness of the three teenagers makes War/Dance even more compelling.
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This is an outstanding film that should have widespread exposure. I am embarrassed and humbled to admit that I had no idea what their life is like. It made me cry with sadness and joy, and I dare say I look at the world much differently now, for the better and the worse… This is an important story to know.