This week I noticed a documentary on the shelf at my library, called War Dance, directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. I took it home and watched it; I'm glad I did. Maybe your local library has it, too.
War Dance is set in northern Uganda, a region that has been wracked by conflict for two decades. Ongoing fighting between government forces and the rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has created instability in wide swaths of the countryside. (The LRA is also linked with the conflicts in neighboring Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which we've previously discussed on this blog.)
Perhaps the dimension of the conflict that has received the most attention is the forcible "recruitment" (a.k.a. abduction) of children to serve as soldiers or slaves for the LRA. Although child soldiering is not the main focus of War Dance, one child featured in the documentary tells his story about being abducted, taken into the bush with the rebels, and forced to perform terrible acts. The other children interviewed in the documentary share their stories of how the war has affected their lives and the lives of their families. The film is a good introduction, on an educational level, to issues like child soldiers and orphan-headed households.
But the film doesn't stop with tales of atrocities. The main storyline of the film revolves around Uganda's National Music Competition, where 20,000 schools compete in dance, singing and instrumental music. The featured students in northern Uganda (from the Patongo school) have never made it to this competition before; after all, many of them are orphans, refugees, heavily impacted by the war. The film follows these students in their quest to compete in the Competition in Kampala. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that it was refreshing to see a film in which the children come away feeling empowered because of something they accomplished. So often, kids are portrayed strictly as victims, or they are shown being empowered by adults' lectures--but in this film, the kids work hard, accomplish something, and feel powerful as a result.
If you like music and dance, you will love the scenes of children performing traditional music and tribal dances. And if you like stylistically-beautiful films, this one's for you. Despite its sometimes-dark subject nature, it is gorgeous. The cinematography is breathtaking, the landscape is beautiful--and the color! the light!
I think the filmmakers made a stylistic choice to skimp a bit on historical analysis, so if you watch this film I would recommend that you read up on the LRA and the situation in northern Uganda, to help you contextualize what you're seeing. In fact, even if you don't watch the film, click on these links. Northern Uganda gets remarkably little international attention, and it is one of the world's most dangerous conflicts, especially for children.
You can watch a trailer for the film and look at (beautiful) still photographs at the War Dance website.
A discussion of global issues; Comments are welcome.
"My trip to the former Yugoslavia had opened the world for me, and my hunger for the world. In doing so, it undid the contained, safe borders of my existence. Suddenly a woman weeping over her lost son in an image on the front page of The New York Times was no longer a theoretical entity. She was real, a woman I might have met, might have known. I was connected to her. I could no longer divorce myself from her pain, her suffering. Initially this was overwhelming. I had nightmares. I felt restless and wrong in my comforting life in America. Everything seemed absurd and pointless. I came to understand why we block out the pain and atrocities of others. That pain, if we allow it to enter us, makes our lives impossible. It forces us to examine our own values and reality. It insists that we be responsible for others. It thrusts us into the messy world where there are no easy solutions or reasons, only struggles and questions. It creates great fissures in the landscape of our insulated, so-called safe reality. Fissures that, once split open, can never close again. It compels us to act." (Eve Ensler)
"To study foreign affairs without putting ourselves into others' shoes is to deal in illusion and to prepare students for a lifelong misunderstanding of our place in the world." (Paul Gagnon)
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." (Nelson Mandela)
"I wonder how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own." (Howard Zinn)
"We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life." (Martin Luther King Jr.)
"I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." (Stephen Jay Gould)
"But in the end, there will still be a morning like this one, full of new light, and a distant voice will be heard, like a memory of before we became people. And the tones of a song will well up, the gentle lull of the first mother. This song, yes indeed, will be ours, the memory of a deep root that they were unable to wrench out of us. This voice will give us the strength for a new beginning, and upon hearing it, the corpses will find peace in their graves and the survivors will embrace life with the simple joy of young lovers. All this will happen if we are able to rid ourselves of this time that has made animals out of us. Let us strive to die like the people we no longer are." (Mia Couto)
"If they put an iron circle around your neck I will bite it away." (Toni Morrison)