Most of us who have grown up in America have a difficult time wrapping our minds around what it's like to live in a place where every day is a struggle between life and death, with death coming out on the winning side more often than not. If we lose power for a few days, or even a week or more, as happened in my neighborhood last year when a massive windstorm hit Seattle, we panic if the store runs out of firelogs and flashlights, and start to get testy after a few days without a hot shower.
For the children of the Acholi tribe living in Patonga Refugee Camp in war-torn northern Uganda, life as we know it is simply incomprensible. Most of them have never seen electricity, or running water, much less things like television and fast food, and have seen more death in their short lifetimes than we can imagine. Most of the kids of Patonga Camp have lost one or both parents to the violence that's been wreaked upon the Acholi by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, which has slaughtered, mutilated, raped and abducted the Acholi since its inception in 1987. Since 1996, tens of thousands of Acholi have been forced by the government to abandon their ancestral lands and live in "protected villages" – overcrowded, unsanitary refugee camps which, in spite of the protection of armed government forces, are still routinely attacked by the LRA.
War/Dance, directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix-Fine (who won a well-deserved directing award at Sundance for this film) take us into Patonga Camp, the most remote and desolate of the protected villages, to show us the story of a group of children living in the camp who have been invited to participate in the national music and dance competition at Kampala, the nation's capitol. This is the first time Patonga Grammar school has ever won the regional competition and been invited to Kampala -- an invitation that is considered a high honor. To win at Kampala is to bring pride and recognition to your tribe, something the Acholi people desperately need after two decades of war and terrorism.