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Devil Came on Horseback, The
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by Laura Kyle

"Just may reinvigorate Americans who've grown tired of hearing about Darfur."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: How do you get Americans to pay attention to what's happening in Darfur? It's a topic that's gotten old and people get depressed when they talk about it. Nothing will change in the region by watching a documentary, so why even bother?

The Devil Came On Horseback isn't just another social awareness film. Yes, it tells the stories of African Muslims who've friends and family members have been brutally raped and murdered and homes have been destroyed (almost 500,000 total have been killed in Darfur since the violence began). Yes, it showcases devastating pictures of bodies burned alive and babies crushed under the wheels of cars and all other kinds of heart-breaking carnage. But what The Devil Came On Horseback also shows are people begging for help help from America.

Directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg retrace the steps of Brian Steidle, a former United States Marine, who was promised a big paycheck to monitor Darfur. He wasn't armed with a gun and was about to learn how powerful an image could be, as his camera was to ultimately be his only weapon against the terrors he was about to witness.

Steidle's job was simple: to observe his dangerous surroundings and promptly send reports back to the African Union. What he discovered was not a rebel faction ravaging the villages, but a united effort by the African Union to completely expel its own people.

Predictably, no one listened to his reports. (Of the more than 80 reports he sent out, only three were ever acknowledged.) Steidle resigned from his position, feeling helpless and disillusioned, but when he got back to the States, his sister encouraged him to share his evidence (which included an overwhelming number of potent first-hand photographs) that the African Union was in on the genocide. And when the U.S. government only responded half-heartedly, he returned to Africa once again this time to Chad, to reconnect with refugees and then finally took the information to the American public.

The Devil Came On Horseback is frustrating and saddening with every photo of a corpse and testimony from a survivor, more tears will get jerked and more shock about both the African Union and U.S. government's apathetic response to the genocide will be awakened.

But this is not a movie about the complexities of why the genocide, or Darfur conflict (whatever term you want to use), is happening and why the U.S. government isn't taking effective action to stop it. In fact, Steidle (our guide and narrator) is content to call the militant Janjaweed just plain "evil" and nothing more.

It's, instead, a movie about a desperate people who truly believe that America will come to the rescue. And that unusual twist is what will rival other documentaries and public service announcements and campaigns in inspiring audience members to suddenly care about Darfur and aggressively petition the government to prevent another Rwandan-esque tragedy.

Stern and Sundberg vividly illustrate Stiedle's early experiences, even though they didn't have cameras on him at the time, and as they follow him during his second trip to Africa and his herculean efforts to educate the American people, the documentary only grows more captivating with every frame.

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originally posted: 03/14/07 08:23:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2007 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Annie Sunderberg
  Ricki Stern

Written by

  Brian Steidle

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