|War Dance-more than a documentary|
I finally watched War Dance. If you have never watched War Dance, well, you are missing out on a docu-film that comes quite close to capturing the beauty of Uganda, as I see it with my eyes, hear it with my ears and sometimes try to wrestle down in words in what I write. There are echoes, glimpses, held scenes that Ugandan artists like the Afrigo Band of the late 1980s, early 1990s, the Austin Bukenya of The People’s Bachelor, the Okot P’Bitek of Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, in their artistic creations-in tattered pages and on cracked vinyl records that survive the tumult of Uganda’s ever evolving self through the decades.
How can I say this about a documentary? And one that clearly (if you are clued to catch the prompts in such productions) was made to appeal, to plead, to make ‘empathetic white audiences’ in the then infinitely richer, and bored ‘West’ of 2007 that were looking for ways to spend the oodles of money their gigantic economies were pumping out. A documentary that the New York Times writer Stephen Holden describes that watching it,
“When individual children, some in tears, tell their stories while gazing directly into the camera, the shots seem posed and their remarks possibly rehearsed. The production notes explain that the children felt more comfortable telling their stories directly to the camera than to an interviewer, but you still have an uneasy sense of being manipulated.”
How can I have such good things to say about such a Shine Global production that with AMREF support, you always have to have your antennae up to trap the least unscrupulousness going on. Because let’s face it, all these NGOS in Uganda, in Africa, much as they begin with David Livingstone saintly principles, they tend to end the way he ended-making compromises whose murky deal signings we will not know until we are dealing with the consequences of their actions.
Because no matter what one may feel about War Dance’s origins, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix directed a beautiful piece of work. Yes, you may wonder how the story of children trapped in the then Patongo Internally Displaced Camp and the horrific stories of their lives they have to tell can even begin to be called beautiful. But there it is. You have to watch War Dance to understand how true from where in East 1916 WB Yeats learned, as War Dance will teach you to learn…
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
It is all in the newness of the eyes that went to Pader and saw it all with a childlike wonder the harassed Acholi fleeing Joseph Kony’s onslaught had too long not had a chance to see it like-for everyone’s land is a beauty in their eyes, even when they are forced to vacate it, a connection remains.
Saw and reminded us (and I mean like I, the before rather indifferent viewer) that great tragedy unfolded in Uganda and the world for 20 years and then some more, looked away, apathetic. But not just the rest of the world, which after all has no obligation to help us, but that even the rest of us Ugandans ignored. As the children of Patongo Primary School find out, when they make the trip to the National Theatre, there is a hostility against northerners in Uganda. No good is expected to come from those ‘badokoli’. A sin, no one talks about in War Dance, maybe even a curse, seems to hang around the Acholi and all victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s clashes with Uganda’s national army, The Uganda People’s Defence Forces.
But it is that somewhat unspoken dread that amplifies the beauty War Dance finds, first in the stunning landscape vistas, the sunsets, then as it comes in close, to interrogate, to listen, to give a chance to spoken testimonies of life experiences many of us will never come close to going through-the people begin to become beautiful.
This is War Dance-in a few words.