A Fine Team


Husband and Wife Collaborate Across an Ocean for’War/Dance’

At the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, the Documentary Directing Award (Independent Film Competition) went to husband-and-wife team Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, who are based in Chevy Chase, Md. The Washington Diplomat interviewed the Fines to discuss “War/Dance,” a children’s musical set against the backdrop of beautiful landscapes in a brutal war zone of Uganda (see film review in the November 2007 issue of The Washington Diplomat).

Sean recalled the film’s origins: “We got a call from another husband-and-wife team that just started a nonprofit called Shine Global. He said, ‘We want to make a documentary about Northern Uganda.’

“We said, ‘What’s going on in Northern Uganda?’

“He said, ‘You need to get off the phone and go Google it and look into it.’”

So they did and in their research discovered a ravaging 20-year-long civil war, in which rebels routinely abduct children to serve as sex slaves and fighters.

“We were reading about awful atrocities that were happening against children. We were pretty shocked that we hadn’t heard about it … and ashamed,” Sean admitted.

“From day one, Andrea and I said, ‘We’ve got to make this different than other African films’ … that’s pretty much policy experts, interviews, about the issue itself,” Sean explained. “We wanted to make a personal film. We wanted to make a film that was told in the voices of the people who were most affected by this war, and that’s children. That’s what we set out to do when we left for Northern Uganda on a scout.”

Two days before they left, the couple heard about a possible music competition in the area. “We were scouting three or four possible stories, all with hopeful messages,” Sean said. “We wanted to tell a story where you’re not just focusing on the horror because you kind of get numbed to that. We’ve all seen those images of children with distended bellies and poverty. We’ve all heard of child soldier situations. I think people just grow numb to it.

“We wanted to look at how a child that goes through something like a civil war, deals with it, how they find normalcy in that, how they live,” the director said.

At first though, the couple couldn’t find any schools that were in the music competition—“until my translator said, ‘There’s one school I heard about, but it’s in the most isolated, dangerous part of the war zone, a place where not even aid organizations go.’

“The day we pulled up into that place was really an amazing experience,” Sean recalled. “You’re driving through this dangerous war zone. You’re going 80 to 100 miles an hour. You’re driving through dusty roads. You’re looking next to you to make sure that no rebels are going to jump out and shoot your car. You’re also seeing this beautiful landscape go by. Then you’re driving through the camp. It’s really ugly. It’s a difficult place.

“Then you hear singing. You roll up, and there’s this beautiful big tree. It’s almost like an oasis in the middle of this war zone. There’s singing and dancing. We’ve got to film this because it’s just amazing.”

Sean’s wife Andrea didn’t go to Uganda. “We always worked on a film together, but this film was different,” she explained. “We had a 10-month-old baby. Being a first-time parent changes everything.

“It was challenging when I found out Sean got malaria,” she added. “My initial response was, ‘You’re done. Get home. We’re not going to do anybody any good if you die. We’re not going to make a good film that way. We can always try to get you back there.’”

But Sean was able to travel to receive medical attention after a few days, although he was initially held up at gunpoint in the middle of the night by the military thinking Sean and his crew were rebels.

The couple though is used to the rigors, and dangers, of international travel. “We worked for National Geographic for years. We shot in a lot of countries. You try to prepare yourself as much as possible and hope that you can do it safely,” Andrea said.

Sean insisted, “Even though we’re not physically there together, we are making that film together. It was such a stressful, difficult situation—having Andrea have the ability to step back [and say], ‘Have you thought about following this road?’ It wouldn’t be the film it was if Andrea wasn’t here, and I wasn’t there.”

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.