By Shira, Kipnees, Staff Writer
F&M hosted a screening of the award-winning documentary, War/Dance, featuring Dominic Akena ’16, last Thursday night. Both War/Dance and Innocente, another documentary, are the work of filmmaker-couple, Sean and Andrea Fine. The films were shown in connection with the Fines’ Common Hour speech.
The film presents Akena’s background — he was forced to be a child soldier for a month at the age of nine after being captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army in his native Uganda — as well as two other Ugandan youths and explores how they express themselves through music.
According to Zachary Reese, video production program manager for the theatre, dance, and film (TDF) department, the documentary is important for the F&M community to see because it provides insight into worlds that many people do not fully understand.
“When we listen to stories of suffering, like the ones of the children of Uganda or a homeless teen in America, we are often hearing it delivered to us from a source outside of that community — spoken by a wealthy U.S. news anchor or delivered in dry characters through a Twitter feed,” he said. “These films provide the rare chance to view the experience firsthand, giving voices to subjects that are often misunderstood or absent-mindedly ignored.”
Reese added he hopes the films will bring the community together and break down societal boundaries.
“In giving a stage to youths that come from such different backgrounds than much of our F&M community, we can expand our concept of us, and narrow our vision of them,” he continued.
Akena explained he wanted his fellow students to come away with an understanding that there is always something that can help people when they experience tragedies.
“I hope that people learn and take with them the idea that there is always something that can help you get back up on your feet no matter how far you have fallen in life,” he said. “Things like music, arts, sports, etc., are the tools we should use everyday as a third foot to stand on. They really help.”
Akena ended up pursuing music as a way to reclaim some sense of normalcy in his life and to help forget some of the traumas he went through at a young age.
“I never really understood the power of music until music was the only thing I realized I [had] left in me; music was the only thing I enjoyed at the time,” he said. “It also made painful memories easy to live with, as I turned my life around from feeling sorry for myself to celebrating what I have left of me with singing, dancing, and making music.”
Akena originally thought he would never attend college, but F&M gave him an opportunity to continue with his life, despite issues he faced. “I decided to go to F&M because [the College] accepted me and gave me another reason to keep moving forward,” he said. “I’ve always lived by my principle — that I should always take on the opportunity that presents itself in front of me — and F&M presented itself to me to take a step here, before I leap off to the next thing after graduating college.”
Reese was able to bring the film and the Fines to campus after meeting Akena, who was a student in Intro to Motion Picture Production, which was taught by Dirk Eitzen, professor of film and media studies, in 2013.
“I was immediately impressed with Akena as a film student and individual, and his passion and commitment to filmmaking was evident,” Reese said.
After Akena completed the class, Reese hired him to work in the film program’s equipment room, unaware of his role in War/Dance, which Reese had seen a few years prior to meeting him. Reese did not connect Akena’s arrival at F&M with the documentary. Despite this, Eitzen had already begun to speak with Akena about bringing the Fines, Akena’s legal guardians, to F&M to lead a Common Hour talk. From that point, Reese organized a viewing to partner with the Common Hour event.
Akena believes this documentary has improved his life and provided him with incredible opportunities that he would not have had otherwise.
“Given that I am here today, attending Franklin & Marshall College, I think it is safe for me to say that the film did me more good than giving me my life and future back,” Akena said. “It gave me the options I never had to take on the adventure that seemed inconceivably far away in my dreams.”
Junior Shira Kipnees is a staff writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.