A Reason to Dance Amid Death in 'War/Dance' In the new documentary War/Dance, orphaned Ugandan children get to perform in the country's prestigious National Music Competition. There, they find not only escape, but also dignity and pride. Hear an interview with the film's directors.
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A Reason to Dance Amid Death in 'War/Dance'

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A Reason to Dance Amid Death in 'War/Dance'

A Reason to Dance Amid Death in 'War/Dance'

A Reason to Dance Amid Death in 'War/Dance'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16131203/16143014" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

In the documentary War/Dance, Ugandan children participate in Uganda's National Musical Competition. Courtesy of ThinkFilm hide caption

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Courtesy of ThinkFilm

A truck, overflowing with orphaned children, bounces along a red dirt road. They are beaming. The new documentary War/Dance explains why.

Consigned for much of their young lives to a refugee camp in Northern Uganda, these kids are headed for the bright lights of the country's capital, and its prestigious National Music Competition.

Against all odds, the refugee camp's primary school has qualified. It's a first for a region in Uganda that for years has been the victim of a vicious, cult-like rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army.

Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine made War/Dance. They focused on three adolescent musicians who embodied all the ways a child could suffer in this war.

Rose is an orphan whose aunt now uses her as her servant. Nancy's father was hacked to death by the rebels. And Dominic was a child soldier who escaped and spends his days playing the xylophone. All three get caught up in the excitement swirling around the National Music Competition — a competition that brings hope and brightens this bleakest of places.

The directors recently sat down with Renee Montagne to describe the horrific conditions in Northern Uganda, discuss the process by which they found the film's individual subjects, and address the way the children find not only escape, but also dignity and pride.

'War/Dance'

Moving pictures: In strife-torn Uganda, a music and dance competition helps refugee schoolchildren keep the horrors of war at bay. Abbie Trayler-Smith hide caption

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Abbie Trayler-Smith

Moving pictures: In strife-torn Uganda, a music and dance competition helps refugee schoolchildren keep the horrors of war at bay.

Abbie Trayler-Smith
  • Directors: Sean Fine
                      Andrea Nix
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running Time: 105 minutes

Clip: 'There Must Be Music'

An almost alarmingly upbeat documentary about harrowing events in Africa, this portrait of brutalized children with angelic voices is tricky to get your head around.

Co-directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix use the ongoing rebel conflict in Uganda — and its tragic consequences for hundreds of thousands of displaced people — to provide a background for a national children's music and dance competition. About three dozen 10- to 14-year-olds from the Patongo Refugee Camp Primary School travel to Kampala for the big contest. Between rehearsals and performances, a handful of them relate their real-life horror stories. Some speak of parents being murdered by rebel soldiers; others tell of being forced by soldiers to murder strangers. And if some of their stories feel rehearsed, they're nonetheless wrenching.

The filmmakers have countered this grim background with an upbeat narrative about the competition, which allows audiences to nurture a bit of hope for the kids. In Kampala, they get their first wide-eyed glimpse of buildings that don't have thatched roofs — and they get the chance to sing and dance their hearts out. And in those moments, it's hard not to be moved by an innocence that has somehow survived amid so much horror.