26th Global Visions Film Festival: “War Dance”

I had seen an ad for the twenty-sixth annual Global Visions Film Festival in early October, and was amazed that this festival had such a long and rich history in the city. After reading about the opening gala film, War Dance, I decided this would be a good year to partake in the events for the first time.

I had purchased tickets in advance from the website about a week prior, which allowed me to skip the line at the Paramount Theatre box office. I picked up my ticket and headed inside.

I haven’t been to the Paramount in years, and thinking back, my last trip there was for a screening of Steven Spielberg’s A.I., in 2001. I vaguely remember the theatre announcing its closure a few years ago due to a lack of business, and really, with their small audience numbers and seats in dire need of replacement, I wasn’t surprised. Then, the City Centre Church announced it would be utilizing the refurbished Paramount space for their weekly services, and thus, the historic gem came back into being.

Inside, the theatre looked great. The chairs had been replaced, the screen looked fantastic, and the stage, in a fashion similar to that of Garneau Theatre, provided the interior with a unique feel of untouchable renaissance never replicated at local multiplexes. I found an agreeable seat on the main floor, and was surprised at the rate that the theatre was being filled up. Another great thing about local festivals, I find, is how friendly attendees are. On this night, I watched as four different people were asked and subsequently agreed to move to accomodate other patrons yet to be seated – something I rarely see at sold-out screenings of first-run movies.

After a warm welcome from the Board President and the Festival Program Director, and a short speech from Lieutenant-Commander Pierre Comeau, who served for a period of time in the Peoples’ Republic of Congo and in Ghana to end child soldiering, the film began.

Focused on three Acholi children in the Patongo refugee camp in Northern Uganda, the documentary tells of their personal tragedies as a result of the ongoing conflict with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, and chronicles their preparation for a national music and dance competition in 2005 – the first time the Patongo school had beat out their regional opponents for a coveted spot at the finals.

The choice to focus on just three children was a good one, as it allowed the audience more time to connect with their stories. A poignant scene with Dominic, a spunky thirteen year old, demonstrated both innocence and maturity as he confronted a captured rebel leader to question him about the wherabouts of his missing older brother, only to find out he was likely killed years ago. A few days before the competition, Nancy, a girl of thirteen, visited the grave of her father who was murdered by rebels four years earlier. She breaks down in a sudden fit of tears, and if not heartbreaking enough, the camera pans to Nancy’s mother who reminds her daughter of the necessity to stay strong, as she herself chokes to hold back tears, warning that it ‘isn’t safe to cry so loud in the bush’; even the normal process of grieving is repressed. Lastly, Rose, a young woman with a haunting voice and a broken soul, tells of the gruesome way in which she discovered the death of her parents – rebels lifted out the decapitated heads of victims to allow family members to identify loved ones, and here, she found the remains of both her mother and father. It is evident, especially with Nancy as a contrast, of how much Rose could use a comforting, reassuring adult presence in her life.

Two things that were a tad unsettling – I did wonder througout as to how the filmmakers were able to extract the stories from the children. I just hope counselling or supports were provided (Dominic, in particular, said that he had never before spoken of the murders he had committed as a child soldier). As well, Rose’s relationship with her Aunt was quite possibly an abusive one, and though this was hinted at, was never quite resolved.

With books and media (such as the World Vision One Life Experience or Stephen Lewis’ Race Against Time) so focused on the negative out of Africa, it was really uplifing and important to see a story offering some hope and joy. It was such a triumph to be able to watch the final outcome of their preparation and hard work – I couldn’t help but smile as the Patongo school was awarded a trophy for first prize in the traditional dance competition.

If you get a chance to watch War Dance, do so. But if it isn’t available for rent, be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s Global Visions Festival. I have no doubt documentaries of equal calibre, highlighting issues vital to the consciousness of a global citizen, will be offered at its twenty seventh annual event.

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