At the World Cinema Showcase, a distant conflict. By CALEB STARRENBURG.

MAD HOT BALLROOM relocated to a Ugandan refugee camp, War/Dance represents two documentaries at conflict with each other. The first is a compelling human drama of children battling to regain normalcy in their lives amidst the tragedy of war; the second is an attempt to make suffering palatable to foreign audiences, in this case a crowd-pleasing tale of underdogs taking on Uganda’s best in a nation-wide music competition. In this respect the film is well intentioned, but at times unsettling.

Gorgeously filmed by Sean and Andrea Nix Fine, War/Dance often feels like a high-end reality TV show. Children are posed in close-ups to deliver possibly scripted dialogue to camera. Certain events appear reenacted, even staged – the affect of which is to draw the viewer out of the film.

Yet War/Dance makes no pretenses to be straight journalism, and is notable for its ability to make tangible a distant conflict. The film focuses on three children from Patongo Primary – Dominic, a 14-year-old xylophone player; Nancy, a 14-year-old dancer; and Rose, a 13-year-old choir singer – as they prepare to represent their school in the annual National Music Competition.

The children, all members of the Acholi tribe, live in a remote north Ugandan refugee camp under constant military protection from the Lord’s Resistance Army. Although the film fails to provide any background on the conflict, it explains two million Acholi have been forced into government protected camps, and 30,000 of its children kidnapped to become soldiers.

As Dominic, Nancy and Rose prepare for their musical showdown, they take time to share personal tales of horrific suffering. They also relate the importance music plays in their lives. “In our daily lives there must be music in everything we do. If there’s music, life becomes good,” says Nancy. It is this incredible resolve and the children’s moments of unguarded joyfulness that are film’s greatest accomplishment.

Early in War/Dance – during lavishly composed footage of a refugee camp – Nancy explains: “Most people in the world think this is how people in Africa live, but I want to tell them this is not the way people in Africa live.”

Whether War/Dance represents an authentic vision of Africa is debatable. What is the authentic view of Africa? However, in challenging our preconceptions of the continent – and providing a human face to an ongoing conflict – War/Dance is a success and recommended viewing.