War Dance

Three children living in a displacement camp in northern Uganda compete in their country's national music and dance festival.

Adolescence & Coming of Age, Arts, Culture, & Sports, Global Perspectives, Peace & Conflicts

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About the Film

For the past twenty years, northern Uganda has been at war with a rebel force, the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A), and the country’s children have been the greatest victims of the conflict. But here, the children are not only the victims of the rebels, they are the rebels. The L.R.A has a chillingly effective process to fill its ranks – abducting innocent children.

Ugandan children are getting ready for the biggest event of the year, the National Music Competition. Over 20,000 schools will compete, but only one will go home the champion, and no one expects it to be Patongo. Schools in refugee camps don’t win awards.

War/Dance follows the courageous efforts of Patongo’s students as they pour their hearts into winning this year’s music competition. The war has stolen their homes, their parents, and their childhood. Patongo’s refugee camp packs 60,000 people into its endless squalor. There is no electricity, no running water, and no safe place. The bullet holes in the school walls tell the stories the children would rather forget. Two years ago, the L.R.A. dragged 29 students from Patongo’s schoolhouse to “join” the army.

Each child has a story to tell. Rose, a 13-year-old choirgirl, is trying to piece her life back together after witnessing the brutal aftermath of her parents’ grisly murder. Dominic, 14, is an escaped child soldier and virtuoso xylophone player who is haunted by the memory of the two people he was forced to kill. And Nancy, a 14-year-old dancer, struggles to keep herself and her three baby siblings alive.

After a lifetime of trauma, the Patongo Primary School students have something magical to look forward to. They have qualified to compete in the National Music Competition in Kampala. Most have never left the camp, but they dream about towering buildings, plentiful soda, and soldier-free streets. Unlike the wealthier schools from the south, Patongo’s students need everything, from school uniforms to instruments. Despite the odds, the children endlessly practice their performances, driven by heart, talent, and the need to rebuild their lives. If their bus can safely make it through rebel territory, they’ll take the stage and give it their all. Win or lose, these children will show what true heart can achieve.