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Human Rights Film Fest



War/Dance One of three children at the heart of War/Dance, Dominic (pictured right) is quite a talented musician. He not only plays his wooden xylophone like a virtuoso, but he built it as well and constantly tinkers with it to adjust its tone. Filmed in 2005, his primary school in Pantongo in northern Uganda is set to compete in the National Music Competition in the capital city of Kampala for the first time.

The children of Patongo aren't just from a poor rural area, they're refugees in their own country. Members of the Acholi tribe, they live in a region caught up in civil war between the rebel Lord's Resistance Army and the government. Troops with AK-47s regularly walk through their town. Many camp residents fled their farm lands because rebel forces killed and abducted people indiscriminantly. Many boys were forcibly conscripted to become child soldiers. In one moving scene, Dominic is able to question a captured rebel about the whereabouts of his brother, who has been missing for three years.

When the school children of Patongo reach Kampala to perform their traditional music and dance, they are awed by the city's glass and steel towers and the airport (though they arrived by bus). Other schools have nicer uniforms and equipment. But what shocks and intimidates them are the rumors circulating that they are child murderers.

The award-winning film manages to capture both the vibrant celebration of the children performing their traditional dance and some of the brute horrors of life in a war zone. It's astounding that the two extremes can co-exist, but it's one of the film's hopes that one can heal the other. " Will Coviello Ya Heard Me 'Even white people like it, y'all!" So exclaimed an overwrought DJ Jimi onstage after a sneak preview screening of Ya Heard Me at the Contemporary Arts Center in August. The irrepressible New Orleans block-party sound has even reached the halls of cultural theory. Director Matt Miller is a doctorate candidate whose published articles have titles like 'Mia X, "The Ghetto Sarah Lee': Identity, Power and Representation in the Life and Work of a Woman Gangsta Rapper from New Orleans."

Ya Heard Me takes it to the St. Thomas, not the ivory tower. That's largely due to the help of associate producers John and Glenda Roberts, the husband-and-wife team who produced the NOATV hip-hop show It's All Good in the Hood for more than a decade. The result is an amazingly successful documentary that, with the help of insiders, explains bounce inside and out without looking like an anthropological study. Mardi Gras Indians soundtracked with bounce links New Orleans rap and second-line traditions. We also learn about the curious genesis of bounce's signature beat in an obscure track from an '80s New York group, the Showboys. The unique phenomenon of sissy bounce artists " gay rappers in drag " gets a thorough and thoughtful touch.

The aftermath of Katrina casts a sober pall over the film. Some of the most astonishing footage comes from 10th Ward Buck's home-video recordings of floodwaters rising around his apartment building and his stay inside the Dome. The rappers Mia X and Joe Blakk were filmed outside the White House after having spoken to a group on behalf of displaced New Orleanians. Blakk gestures at the president's home and says, 'He's just making it up as he goes along. That man is the master of the remix." Post-Katrina interviews were also shot at a time when the soundtrack of the projects was struggling to survive in a city that had just received the OK to demolish 4,500 units of public housing. The artists share an irony-laced optimism: 'This music, the way we create it, came from nothing any f**kin' way. So coming back to nothing isn't much of a stretch." " Alison Fensterstock

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