With its uplifting story and cinematic style, War/Dance has won a shelf-ful of festival honours, including the Sundance documentary directing award, and looks likely to be in the running for this year's documentary feature Oscar.

Directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine say the most important beneficiaries will be the children of war-ravaged northern Uganda who are the focus of the emotionally charged documentary.

But it is clear that the buzz around the project, which distributor and international sales company ThinkFilm just released in the US, is also opening doors, including one into the world of fiction features, for the husband-and-wife film-making team.

The partners, who work out of Washington DC under their Fine Films banner, have been travelling the world producing and directing TV documentaries for the past 10 years.

The opportunity to make their first theatrical documentary was provided by Shine Global, a non-profit company aiming to use film to raise awareness of the abuse and exploitation of children. Shine Global covered 70% of the film's budget, with the rest coming from investors including Rogues Harbor Studios, another producer of socially relevant films.

Part of the new 'filmanthropy' movement, Shine founders Albie Hecht and Susan MacLaury "were very specific about the end goal," says Andrea Nix Fine, "and they knew the region they wanted to focus on." Yet at the same time, adds Sean Fine, "They trusted us from the beginning. It set us free. We were able to try a lot of things we've always wanted to try."

The film focuses on three children affected by civil war who become part of their school's attempt to win a national music and dance competition.

To establish the connections that made the film's almost painfully intimate storytelling possible, Sean Fine (the cinematographer of the team) and his crew lived for three months in the children's refugee camp.

"The way we work," Fine says, "and especially the way we worked on this film, is we don't bring the camera out right away. And we know when to put the camera down - when to be a human being."

Shooting in high-definition 24p made the most of the under-$1m budget but also allowed the directors to give the film a truly cinematic style.

"A big goal of ours was for this to be visually powerful," explains Andrea Nix Fine. "These kids' stories are epic and we wanted to raise the level of the production to match."

At Sundance, the film's look and feel aroused the interest of Hollywood and now, besides looking forward to more theatrical documentaries, the Fines are working with producer Gary Foster developing a fiction feature based on the real-life story of a young Indian boy and touching on the issue of child labour. They plan to write and direct.