The film centers on three children – Nancy, a 13-year-old choir singer; Rose, a 14-year-old dancer; and Dominic, a 14-year-old xylophone player. They are members of the Acholi ethnic group, living in the remote northern Uganda Refugee Camp of Patongo, which is under military protection from the Lord’s Resistance Army, a terrorist group that has been rebelling against the government for the past two decades. In 2005, the camp’s primary school won a regional music competition giving it the opportunity to head to the city Kampala to participate in the annual National Music Competition. War Dance focuses on three of the eight categories encompassed by the competition: Western choral performance, instrumental music, and traditional dance, in which the students perform the Bwola, the dance of the Acholi. Over the course of three months, the film’s creative team observed the three youngsters as they prepared for the event. The team gained their confidence enough to have them discuss the horrors they have experienced and express their individual fears, hopes, and dreams.
For thirty years, the children of this Acholi tribe in Uganda have been victimized both by civil war and by a rebel force, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Millions have been displaced into harsh refugee camps. But when this camp’s primary school won the right to compete in Uganda’s national music and dance festival, these displaced children dare to dream again. Nominated for an Academy Award, War Dance has been screened at festivals and in theaters both domestically and internationally, winning various awards, and demonstrating its powerful effect on audiences. However, none respond more strongly than adolescents and young adults who instinctively seem to identify with not only the tribulations faced by the film’s three protagonists, but also their determination to overcome them and reclaim their childhoods.