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Atlanta Film Festival: What's up, docs? 

Festival winds down with impressive documentaries

At the age of 9, Dominic was abducted by rebel soldiers who forced him to murder three farmers with their own tools. Nancy watched her mother pick up the remains of her father, hacked to death with machetes, and Rose struggles with excruciating guilt over the thought that if she and her siblings had only come out of hiding, soldiers would not have executed her parents.

One of the questions raised by the documentary War/Dance is what hope remains for these children living in a refugee camp haunted so irreparably by the war in northern Uganda. The answer seems surprising at first, because it is so simple. These three children attest that it is while singing and dancing in preparation for the National Music Competition that they can momentarily forget their suffering. This remarkably troubling and transcendent film by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine shows how creativity and self-expression provide spiritual healing to these traumatized children. (The film won the Documentary Directing Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.)

Childhood is a harrowing thing in two other documentaries that round out the Atlanta Film Festival's final week.

In Macky Alston's unsettling The Killer Within, grown daughter Carrah Bechtel returns to the anxious, insecure state of childhood while dealing with her father Bob's revelation that decades ago, while a student at Swarthmore College, he killed a fellow student. While Bob sees the killing and the lifetime of bullying he says preceded it as a chance to talk about the roots of school violence, his strange detachment from his crime leaves the film troublingly unresolved.

The Killer Within is about the parts that remain hidden and inaccessible inside even those closest to us. This notion also happens to be a feature of the introverted, often unreachable children affected by autism. Lauren Thierry's Autism Every Day plunges viewers into the deep end of the daily ordeals of the strained but devoted parents dealing with autistic children. The lack of context or background on the disease is an aggravating omission in the film. But the cathartic, open way the film catalogs the herculean daily struggles of autism and the ordinary heroism of parenthood undoubtedly will be of value to those dealing with the disease in their own families.

War/Dance, 4 stars. Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. Not Rated. 7 p.m. Fri., April 27. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

The Killer Within, 3 stars Directed by Macky Alston. Not rated. Noon Thurs., April 26. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

Autism Every Day, 2 stars. Directed by Lauren Thierry. Not rated. Noon Sat., April 28. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

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