The joyous song and vibrant dance of the schoolchildren uplift all who see them. They are war orphans, casualties of Uganda's civil strife, healing physical and psychic wounds by performing ancient tribal rites in a national competition.

A triumph-of-the-spirit documentary shot in the Patongo refugee camp and in Uganda's capital, Kampala, War/Dance documents the emotional and spiritual journey of three such orphans who, in effect, use music and dance to fight a war against war. Summoning the spirits of their ancestors, they recover their past and rebuild broken selves.

The handsomely shot chronicle by filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine focuses on the displaced Rose, 13, Nancy, 14, and Dominic, 14.

In turn, each teenager looks into the camera to narrate how he or she came to the camp. Soft-spoken Rose witnessed the murder of both her parents by the Lord's Resistance Army. After Nancy's father was killed and her mother kidnapped, the young girl lovingly parented her three younger siblings. Dominic was involuntarily drafted by the rebels, coerced into waging war against his own tribe, the Acholi. Each narrative is more heartbreaking than the last.

Yet while the viewer understands the individual losses suffered in the civil war, the film does little to put the struggle into political context.

From these shards of grief, the makers of War/Dance chronicle the process of how the victims of civil war create a mosaic of hope. Training for Uganda's National Music Competition, an event one official likens to a cultural Olympics, the orphans recover their ancestral history and spiritually recharge.

Any similarity to American Idol or Akeelah and the Bee is purely intentional.

War Dance *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. Distributed by ThinkFilm.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (descriptions of war atrocities)

Playing at: Ritz at the BourseEndText

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/