Friday, November 23, 2007

War Dance: refugee children in Uganda make music

War Dance, directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix (distributor: ThinkFilm and Sundance Channel, production companies Shine Global ) and Fine Films), is a passionate documentary about kids living in a government protection camp in northern Uganda competing in the country’s music festival in Kampala.

The film weaves chilling stories of atrocities by the rebels with a step-by-step account of their competition from their Patongo school, all the way to the finals in the cultural center in Kampala, which is shown as a mixture of clapboard poverty and high-rise opulence.

The music itself is in several categories: Western choral, instrumental composition, creative dance, and traditional dance (the Bwola). The kids from Patongo actually win the traditional dance. The music is played on homemade instruments with wood components like xylophones and various percussion and some strings. It sounds folksy with just a trace of a Bartok flavor at times.

But it is the stories of the rebel atrocities that get quick attention. Often, a child talks while the site of the atrocity is shown, such as a military barracks in which the kids hid out, or a stormy setting in rounded mountain scenery. Typically rebels would come and kidnap the parents, and kill the father, quite brutally, and abduct the kids. One kid tells of being forced to kill farmers. Another, a bit older, talks about the eugenics of the rebels policy. They target families with the most kids because in their society, having more kids confers more economic wealth and political status. Kids also talk about being the only ones left to take care of younger siblings. It’s easy to appreciate from this film how loyalty to blood and family is so critical in economically “poorer” cultures and how those value systems trickle up. There is one scene on Lake Victoria. The HIV epidemic is not mentioned here, but has been the subject of other films (like Darwin’s Nightmare (2004), from Hubert Sauper, about nearby Tanzania) about the region.

Even the trip to Kampala is bare bones. The kids are piled onto convoy trucks and travel 200 miles on dirt roads, under guards patrolling them with AK-47s. Once in town, at night they sleep, boys and girls separated and carefully chaperoned by music teachers, on the floors with just blankets.

Uganda is mixed ethnically and with respect to religion, being south of the Muslim areas. The CIA website does not fully explain the causes of the brutal activity.

Picture: Primitive settler dwelling in St. Mary's, MD.

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