War Dance & r & & r & by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & "W & lt;/span & e are going to show them we are giants." & r & & r & The setting is Uganda in the run-up to a national music and dance competition for schoolchildren. And the speaker is Dominic, a remarkable 14-year-old living in a displacement camp where 60,000 people seek shelter from the barbarity of the Lord's Resistance Army.
Dominic is speaking specifically about how he thinks his school, Patongo Primary, the longest of long shots, is going to win the national championship.
But it is also clear, after watching this achingly beautiful and heart-breaking documentary, that Dominic -- and other children who have been orphaned, traumatized, raped -- can become giants of the human spirit.
Filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine take on a big story -- what's happening to the Acholi people of northern Uganda after 20 years of terror that has been ignored by the rest of the world. War Dance tells the larger story via a tight focus on the terrible, small particulars of three children.
Nancy, 14, led her younger siblings to the camp after their father was hacked to pieces and their mother was abducted by LRA rebels.
Rose, 13, is distant and suffering after having to identify her mother's severed head in a cooking pot at the site of an LRA massacre.
Dominic gradually reveals that not only was he kidnapped at 9, but that he was forced to become a child soldier -- and ordered to help beat three farmers to death with their own hoes.
"You are the first to know I have killed," he tells the camera -- and us.
These knockout confessionals gain added power as the filmmakers place the children at the actual scenes of their horrors. But are they too manipulative?
War Dance, by using slow-motion, overdubbing and reflective voiceovers from the children during a climactic final performance at nationals, arm-twists us as relentlessly as Rocky. This would be egregious except that the children are so heart-rendingly direct.
And this is why it is so frustrating that the DVD extras are sparse -- amounting only to deleted and extended scenes. After such a powerful film, I'd like to hear a little something from the filmmakers. But they remain silent. (Rated PG-13)