Combining two popular documentary styles — social issue on the one hand and competition (á la Spellbound) on the other — War/Dance simultaneously tells the story of a desolate Warzone Displacement Camp in Uganda, and of its children, who travel to compete in the National Music Competition. That the children of Patongo were chosen out of 20,000 schools to attend the festival — a first for the village — spreads joy among those who have endured war for over two decades. The film focuses on three teens as they prepare for the competition, and through their stories we learn the history of the war: of the rebel forces that abduct children, kill their parents and force them to join and perpetuate the conflict.
Husband-and-wife co-directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine artfully interweave politics, personal stories and performance, and all three areas of the film seem in perfect harmony as they inform and inspire one another. The competition story is neither too uplifting nor too detached from the film’s political consciousness: even the most optimistic moments are tinged with a perseverance that reflects a troubled past and an uncertain future. Visually, the film recalls Terrence Malick, with its poeticized images of nature that underlie the turbulent story at hand. Pink skies and wind-blown fields accompany one child’s story of her father being murdered. For the story of children abducted from their hiding place in a school, the filmmakers offer an image of a spider catching its prey. Such daring use of metaphors — moving away from the literal images of talking heads and archival news footage — distinguish War/Dance as a unique and highly effective documentary.