In much the way that Amandla! (2002) paid tribute to the freedom songs that helped inspire black South Africans topple the oppressive Apartheid regime, War Dance is a documentary about how the children of Uganda have turned to music and dance to take their minds off the intractable civil war which has ravaged the divided African nation for close to 20 years.
Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix, this emotionally-engaging testament to the indomitability of the human spirit specifically focuses on the dreams of a trio of orphans living in a refugee camp near the Northern border. The kids, Dominic and Nancy, both 14, and Rose, 13, all wish to participate in the annual National Music Competition being staged in the country's capital, Kampala.
Though scarred by the conflict and living in squalor, they remain optimistic about their prospects of winning, provided they can arrive at the event safely. The picture is evenly divided between uplifting scenes of teams practicing and heartbreaking interludes during which the three protagonists reflect about their loss of innocence in the wake of all the unspeakable horrors they've witnessed.
Xylophonist Dominic talks about having been recruited by the rebels and then forced to hack a family of innocent farmers to death. Rose, a singer, wistfully recounts how her parents were slaughtered right in front of her, while Nancy describes what it's like to be raising her siblings since the death of her father.
The Oscar-nominated picture's only flaw rests in that some of these earnest eyewitness accounts come across as having been rehearsed. This doesn't mean that they’re not true, just possibly practiced to a point where they've lost their spontaneity. Still, given the breathtaking cinematography, the undulating rhythms, the enchanting choreography and soul-piercing refrains, War Dance is worthwhile as an affirmation of the human potential to be reborn and begin again even in the midst of most dire of circumstances.