The Devil Came on Horseback

"Excellent"

The Devil Came on Horseback Review


In the aftermath of the Holocaust, one very sharp idea was both thought and spoken by many who had truly comprehended the horror of the systematic attempted destruction of an entire people: Never again. At the time of this writing, over 60 years after that catastrophic disaster, the government of Sudan appears to be doing its level best to exterminate a good portion of the people in the Darfur region, while its leaders and those of the rest of the world, astoundingly, debate about what constitutes an actual genocide. The reasons for the slaughter are many, as the Darfurians have multiple things going against them: They are black Africans in an Arab-controlled country; while some are Muslim, many others are Christian or traditional animists; they live inconveniently near lucrative oil deposits. And a world that said, in retrospect, never again, now seems at a loss for words, not to mention meaningful action. Because it's happening again. Now.

Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern's blistering war cry of a film, The Devil Came on Horseback, is about as good an introduction to the Darfur situation as one could hope for. It's told in the admirably tough voice of Brian Stiedle, a former U.S. Marine captain who served a six-month duty as an unarmed observer in Darfur with the African Union peacekeeping force during 2004, after the cease-fire that supposedly ended the 20-year civil war that had been ripping the region apart. With impressionistic verve and harrowing attention to detail, Sundberg and Stern's film relates what Stiedle witnessed in that sun-baked and blood-stained land. His narration as powerless observer is mixed in with the graphic, lividly colored photographs he took of the burnt-out villages and massacred children; the resulting narrative is as dramatic as it is highly moral, in the best sense.

Although he's a military guy from a military family, and thus powerfully averse to doing anything that would embarrass his own government, Stiedle was initially reluctant to make too much noise about what he had seen. But having had enough of watching the government-backed Arab janjaweed militias (the name means literally "devil on a horse") try to exterminate the black Darfurians, once Stiedle returned home, he began doing everything possible to raise consciousness about the plight of Darfur. He became literally a man on a mission, bringing a military discipline to his relentless round of speaking engagements, and going so far as stopping random people on the sidewalk to show them his atrocity pictures.

Most films of this sort would include a vindication, a moment at which it seems likely that the voice of this buzz-cut Marine (hardly the media stereotype of an advocate for the oppressed), but here, even after addressing massive rallies and meeting with top government officials, Stiedle is not satisfied or impressed. The U.S. labeled the Darfur massacres "genocide" back in 2004, and those like Stiedle are still howling in the dark, faced with little but good intentions, pro-Khartoum Arab propagandists -- the new millennium's version of Holocaust deniers -- and a maddening lack of action. When the filmmakers follow Stiedle to Rwanda, one point becomes horribly clear: Unless something dramatic happens, and soon, this is a genocide that will be allowed to continue on its bloody course, no matter how many Save Darfur rallies there are.

The Devil Came on Horseback is more than a great film, it's also the rare kind of non-fiction film that can actually open eyes. It should be burned onto thousands of DVDs and simply handed out on street corners to anybody saying, "I don't really get what this whole Darfur thing is about." Then, even if nothing, people couldn't say they had no idea.



The Devil Came on Horseback

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Friday 11th April 2008

Distributed by: Break Thru Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: , Ricki Stern

Producer: Gretchen Wallace, Jane Wells

Starring: Brian Steidle as Brian Steidle

Also starring:

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