War/Dance: Out of African Misery Another Documentary Is Born

In a just world, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix's documentary wouldn't exist—at least not in this fashion. The rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army would not have been free to ravage northern Uganda, butchering parents, raping and killing children, and displacing entire towns of civilians; failing that, at the very least there would be no alarm needed to alert the rest of the world to the atrocities—among them the conversion of kidnapped children into forced killers. But in the existing marketplace, entertainment, not social consciousness, is the currency—hence this wake-up call couched in a strenuously upbeat, inspirational sports doc. The sport is Uganda's national music and dance competition; the underdog heroes are Dominic, Rose, and Nancy, three orphaned teens in the Patongo refugee camp, whose school troupe is the first to represent rough-and-tumble northern Uganda against the more cosmopolitan south. They tell their horrific stories of mutilation and murder directly to the camera, while the reliance on picturesque backdrops, high-energy performances, and countdown-to-the-big-show narrative gambits begs you not to watch something easier on the conscience. The movie comes across as desperately, even irritatingly, contrived, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it overcame my naturally complacent instincts—which would be to watch something (anything) else, to not get haunted by that closing litany of Web sites for global action.

 
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