Alumna documents resilience in Uganda’s war-torn region
“People love to feel: I come to the movies to be moved. You want to be brought into someone else’s experience” Andrea Nix Fine ’91 said emphatically of her experience both as a consumer and maker of films.
Fine came back to Colby following the campus screening of her award-winning documentary film War/Dance about children in war torn Northern Uganda who, against massive odds, successfully compete in a national music festival.
War/Dance closely follows three students at the Patongo Primary School in Northern Uganda. They are all from the Acholi tribe, a group that has been terrorized for years by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group. The three children followed in the film, Dominic, Nancy and Rose all witnessed and experienced unimaginable horror.
Nancy’s father was hacked into small pieces by the rebels, who forced her mother to bury his dismembered body. Rose saw the rebels pull her parents’ decapitated heads from cooking pots. Dominic was taken as a child soldier, and forced to kill innocent farmers, beating them to death. The rebels told him he wasn’t allowed to cry as he beat the victims’ bodies.
The kids almost seem like zombies as the camera follows them through their daily activities, doing things mechanically without being entirely present. But when they dance, it is as if they glow with vitality and purpose. Watching them dance I imagine, is what being ecstatic feels like, the variety of ecstasy you see at a Pentacostal church: their bodies move with some indescribable and ancient energy. They are alive.
As we follow them from Patongo to the capital of Kampala for the national contest, we learn that dancing and music is about so much more than winning a contest. Dancing and music are ways to reclaim their sense of pride in and attachment to their Acholi history. With their way of life, their culture and heritage under attack, with families destroyed and communities split apart, dancing the Bwola (their ceremonial Acholi dance traditionally performed for the chief) was about being Acholi, embodying Acholi with such immediacy.
The film is beautifully shot, emotional without being manipulative. It is a genuinely moving story and these children are genuinely inspiring.
Fine was joined by Matt D’Arrigo, the founder of A Reason To Survive (ARTS), a non-profit group based in San Diego, that makes the arts accessible to children and young people dealing with tragedy.
The lecture that followed the film screening involved Fine and D’Arrigo speaking about the role of art in relation to social justice. Fine said she went into War/Dance knowing she wanted to help these children in some way.
However, she understands her own limitations and the limitations of her chosen art form. “You do what you know,” she said “but if you’re going to be filmmakers, [you] can’t be social activists full time, so you find people who are.”
Fine’s desire to help the children at Patongo in a meaningful way collided with her next documentary project, Inocente, about a homeless young artist in San Diego, who found an outlet and safe space atthe ARTS center in San Diego.
D’Arrigo and Fine have collaborated and are working closely with the people at Patongo to build a performing arts building at the school. The project, called the Patongo Fund, aims to raise $100,000 to plan, build and operate the arts center.
Dominic from the film has been involved in the process of building an arts building in his community. D’Arrigo stressed the importance of having a link in the community, to honor and respect the community and its needs.
According to D’Arrigo, a non-profit can only work if the community has a need for it, that way the community is invested in it and cares about the work that gets done.
His model by which art can save kids in crisis, involves art as a force for healing, inspiring and empowering. He describes art’s immediate effect as healing children by giving them a sense of fulfillment.
Indeed, the children profiled in War/Dance said when they danced, they forgot about the bad things that happened to them.
ARTS allows children to pursue arts in the “inspire and empower” phases, by building their skills and confidence and giving them education and employment in the arts, if that is something the children might want to continue to do.
The lecture and the film were made possible by the Goldfarb Center and Lauren Fisher ’12, who organized the event.