'War/Dance' An almost alarmingly upbeat documentary about harrowing events in Uganda — and a music-and-dance competition that helps a group of brutalized children survive amid near-unimaginable horrors.
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'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.