Judge Gordon Sullivan notes this one wasn't over a tricycle.
Hear their stories and see with your own eyes…though life is not simple, it is hopeful.
Uganda is just one of the scores of African nations that is being torn apart by conflict. What started as a rebellion between the people and the government blossomed into a three way civil war. The rebels attack the government to take over, but hold the people hostage for their loyalty. The government fights the rebels but can't tell them apart from the regular citizens, so both suffer. Caught in the middle are the everyday people trying to survive in an economically depressed country with great possibilities but little in the way of opportunities. Because of the sheer number of adults who've been killed, there are scores of children with no parents, and many of them get drafted into the rebel army. There, they're taught to kill and contribute to the rebel atrocities. The Children's War is a documentary that focuses on these children, how they got there, and those who are trying to help.
The Children's War started as a film about AIDS in Uganda, but when filmmaker Andrew Krackower learned of the rebels fighting in the North, he felt compelled to document that instead. What emerges is a portrait of a nation divided for almost a quarter of a century. Mixing interviews (including those with humanitarian aid works, former rebels, and children on the street) with more traditional, day-to-day documentary footage, The Children's War eloquently shows the plight of everyone in Uganda.
The Children's War is a very affecting look at the state of Northern Uganda. At a time when other parts of Africa (namely Darfur) are receiving the lion's share of the media attention, The Children's War shows that atrocities, poverty, and deprivation are not the province of a single country or region. The film also shows that tremendous dedication is necessary to bring these facts to light. One of the strengths of any rebel group is the fact that they blend into the regular populace, which makes investigating them a dangerous proposition. Director Andrew Krackower has a knack for making the danger clear but unimportant compared to the truth. He also has a knack for interviewing articulate participants who can clearly explain Uganda's situation. With a country as divided as Uganda, sometimes the story can get hard to follow, but the interviewees are well chosen to give a variety of perspectives on the situation. There's a humanitarian aid worker who does a great job of giving a wider, more political context. There's a former rebel leader (who was captured as a child) who discusses how the rebels camps are run. There are also interviews with people who help orphaned children, and interviews with some of the children themselves. All these interviews combine with the footage Krackower shot on location in Uganda to show exactly what's going on in a country torn apart by violence.
It shouldn't be a surprise that The Children's War is a difficult film to watch. Mostly that's because the film deals with a heart-wrenching subject. However, the film suffers slightly from a problem that plagues many "issue" oriented documentaries. The simple truth is that people respond to stories, to narrative: people will respond to Slumdog Millionaire more than to a dozen documentaries on Mumbai. No matter how affecting the subject matter, it's the director's job to assemble the material in a compelling way. Sometimes, The Children's War doesn't work like that. There's not much of an overall narrative, the country's history comes out in fits and starts, and the film jumps around a bit between participants. It's not enough to sink the film or anything, but throughout the entire film I get the sense that different editing and a more clear through-line would take this documentary to the next level.
On DVD, The Children's War is so-so. The biggest problem with the presentation is that the transfer is non-anamorphic. Although colors look strong, the widescreen presentation is marred by not being anamorphic and there's an excess of noise to the picture. The stereo sound is a little better, with decent on-location sound capturing. Voices are usually audible, with hard-coded subs for some speakers. Subtitles for all the participants would have been nice because of the sometimes-strong accents. The film's extras start with a short film that the same crew shot in Southern Uganda at an orphanage. It shows another side to the conflict, and how the children who are not captured cope with life in Uganda. The other extra is the film's trailer.
The Children's War is a strong film about a strong subject. Hopefully it will raise awareness about the difficulties going on in Uganda, and hopefully that will have some positive effect. This is not a fun or casual viewing experience, but it rewards the patient viewer.
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