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War Dance (Sean Fine, Andrea Nix-Fine)

War Dance

War Dance (Sean Fine, Andrea Nix-Fine)

A little over a year ago, I made a bit of mistake, taking the family lot to see “Blood Diamond” on Christmas day. The movie was excellent, and really brought to light the existance of child soldiers in parts of Africa. I just picked a very bad day to see it. After the lights came up, we were all very depressed, but it was just a speck in comparison to what those people have endured for so long.

I’ve never been able to shake the thought that so many children are being used and abused by rebel soldiers, capturing these young souls to add strength to their armies, forcing them to commit horrid acts, including murder. Those little faces are permanently etched in my brain.

When I saw the new documentary, “War Dance,” was being released about the children of Northern Uganda, I got prepared with a full box of Kleenex, and it came in handy. But again, we have to hear their stories in order to be able to help turn things around and give these children, the future of Africa, a chance at a happy life.

Directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix-Fine traveled to the refugee camp of Acholi, a temporary residence that was originally supposed to house a hand full of families for a short amount of time, and after 10 years, now has a population of over 60,000.

“War Dance” focuses on three children—Rose, 13, Nancy, 12, and Dominic, 14—three brave individuals who have all experienced horrors no human should ever endure.

But they’re making the impossible happen, through their own determination to survive, through the help of those around them, and by holding onto the goal of seeing their Patongo school compete in the Kampala Music Festival.

Nancy says it this way, “Most people in the world think that this is the way people live in Africa, but I want them to know that’s not our way.”

War DanceAlong with her dark memories are reflections on what her life used to be, living in the Kiteng village with her family. The film captures the breathtaking beauty of the land, as clouds rest on peaceful green hills and the sun warms the skies. But within these lands, the Lord’s Resistant Army (L.R.A) attacked her parents while they were out farming, killed the father and force the mother to bury her husband.

For Rose, the only parents she has are the ones in her dreams, and she now lives with her aunt, where the young girl takes on the tasks of a housemaid, cleaning, cooking and taking care of the children.

Dominic and his brother, along with 27 other children, were taken from the schoolhouse where they were sleeping. He endured two long weeks before he escaped, and talks about his experience for the first time, confessing to the camera about how he was forced to take lives. His brother never made it out, and to this day Dominic has no idea if he is dead or alive.

Also for the first time, we get to see him interview a captured rebel sergeant, asking not only about the whereabouts of his brother, but why the rebels do what they do, knowing it’s wrong. I found myself holding my breath, truly impressed with the level of bravery shown by such a young boy in the face of a man, who in different circumstances, could take him down with the swing of a machete.

Going from tears of heartache to tears of joy, the school begins their practice to prepare for the upcoming dance and music festival. This is when you can actually see their wings unfolding. The music connects to their soul, and for the first time, they feel good about themselves and about life. They can put their memories and tragedies behind them and look to their future.

For Dominic, he can’t hide his smile when he’s playing his xylophone. For Rose, she comes alive in the choir. And Nancy finds her true self through dance.

Respected music instructors come to the camp, giving the school children direction to take them to the competition. Once there, they have to once again face confrontation, this time from people in their own country who see these victims of the war as outcasts.

I needed to grab more tissues as I cheered for the Patongo team, and others (including 20,000 other schools) at the National Music Competition in Kampala felt their presence as well, including the judges who were visibly impressed. When they dance, sing and perform, their true spirit fills the room, as these children pay homage to their school, their tribe and their ancestors.

As their instructor said of their lives up until the time they leave for the competition, “The story doesn’t end here. You are now living your second life.”

After seeing this film, I couldn’t help but be convinced that this was true. Out of horror and torture, these young children prove that anything in life is possible.

As I’ve felt before, more of America’s teenagers need to be more aware of the world outside of iPods, MTV, MySpace and their sense of entitlement. They need to learn just how lucky they are. I encourage any parent to give their young adults a true understanding of what it really means achieve greatness in the face of disparity.

If ever there was a story of “music saved my life,” this has to be at the top of the heap.

At the time this movie was filmed, over 30,000 have been abducted by rebels and forced to be child soldiers. The war in Northern Uganda has displaced over 2 million people. Today the LRA continues to attack areas, including a Christian church at the end of 2007.

According to a Peace and Conflict Update #3: Kenyan Riots Affect Uganda on the Invisible Children website (, another organization and documentary created to support the child soldiers in Uganda, “Kenya’s growing instability is having massive effects on bordering countries throughout East Africa, including Uganda.”

100% of Shine Global profits, the “War Dance” production company, go back to charity. “So please, watch this movie and spread the word; it will save lives.”


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