JDIFF 2012 REVIEW – Nightdancers

The Ugandan dance troupe Tabu Flo decide to take their new show to Breakin’ Convention to London in 2011. The show is based on the semi-mythological creatures Nightdancers; humans possessed by spirits who then eat the recently dead. Creating a show based on these creatures – who are still prominent in Ugandan culture – raises issues for the superstitious people of the troupe.

The version of Nightdancers that was shown at the Jameson Dublin International Film festival is not a final cut, and as such, there are still issues within the film that need to be ironed out. As it stands, Nightdancers is the story of a clash of cultures and superstition as the troupe play with the idea that has been niggling at them for years. The film shows Uganda as a country that is struggling with the introduction of organised religion, as many people still turn to the witchdoctors for help. The dance troupe dream of expensive runners and fame, but they are terrified of the idea that the Nightdancers may possess them through their performance, so they turn to prayer to keep them safe.

The audience never sees the full dance routine – although we do see rehearsals and examples of the dancers’ skills – so what starts as a documentary about dancers turns into an examination of life, death and superstition as one of the lads’ mothers’ dies. He examines his dreams and his faith as he tries to come to terms with her death and the fear of possession. The film interviews a self professed Nightdancer and she cements the fears of the men; this is real to her, and through talking with her, it becomes real to them.

It is a shame that this is not a final cut of the film, as with more extensive editing, the film could easily change from a superficial – and slightly messy – story into a real examination of the challenges facing young people in Uganda as they try and integrate their past and future, and come to terms with their expectations of life and their first encounter with death.

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