Unlike many of the documentaries that I have viewed, War/Dance (2007) does not apologize for or reveal any of the artificial devices of filmmaking. Instead the directors use these devices artfully to reveal a world that has not been widely sympathized with by the general American public. The film focuses on the lives of 3 children living in a remote northern Uganda refugee camp of Patongo. The politics of the situation are avoided throughout the film. Instead the film focuses on the children's stories and their journey to Kampala to participate in the National Music Competition. My criticism of the film matches closely to a review from Variety, in which John Anderson called the film "well-intentioned but a victim of its own high cinematic values" and added, "The young black faces are too beautiful, the landscapes too pretty, and the personal stories of slaughter too scripted . . . The formal devices of the film, and the lack of spontaneity in the children's words, do little to sell the message of the movie . . . While the pic may be targeting Westerners who want to feel less awful about genocide and global negligence, it's hard to imagine War/Dance appealing to that crowd - or any other."
I do appreciate the film's aesthetic appeal, however self-victimizing it may be. It is incredible to see reality reconstructed into a dream-like world. To this I credit the sound editing. Although the visual is stunning, I felt that the music and sound "stole the show." Still, it is just a show. In no way should one believe that this is actually reality. Through the artful decisions by the director one can still draw strong conclusions about the importance of music in an oppressed world, but this has been proven time and time again in many other contexts. Although this film presents a refreshing view of the subject of music and culture, never do I feel compelled to to anything active about the political situation. The film makes no attempt to correct the problem, or lay blame to anyone. Instead, it seems to support what may be a capitalistic construction of competition, in which children are encouraged to see music as a way to "prove they are the best" rather than a religious experience or any other "selfless" pursuit. I find myself wondering what the filmmakers think about western influence in this country, or even in filmmaking in general. Whatever they may think, it is clear that they quick to avoid any evidence of an opion.
I am not implying that every film must follow post-modern suite and proclaim self reflexivity, but I am not ready to argue that the illusion of objectivity should make a comeback. "You are first to know that I have killed" one kid explains to the camera, as the viewer is shown reenactments of the child walking through an artificially lit field where we are lead to believe that the murders took place. Is this a blatant lie or an incredible coincidence? It's hard to know, hard to know if any of it is real actually? I'm curious to know how many of the angles were filmed during the actual competition itself as it seems that the camera was able to go on stage and behind the performers without disturbing the actual performance.
Aside from the somewhat harsh criticism I may have presented, I do appreciate this film for what is is. An aesthetic masterpiece and a diluted representation of a culture that has been given no attention. I only hope that this diluted attention does not replace real concern, and that more harm than good comes from it.