Saturday, September 15, 2007

Horseback spurs thought


In America people cry because someone made fun of their hero Britney Spears. In Darfur they cry because they have nothing.
The Devil Came on Horseback was made in the midst of the Darfur genocide by ex-Marine Brian Steidle. In 2004 Steidle answered an ad for a truce observer in Africa on the Internet and next thing he was working in the Sudan Nuba Mountains, monitoring the truce of a recently ended 20-year civil war.
Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg used photographs and video taken by Steidle to explain the situation in Darfur in the western region of Sudan. The first hour of the film fleshes out Steidle's backstory and then proceeds to illustrate the complex yet ultimately barbaric genocide taking place in Darfur. The last half hour concludes with Steidle taking his photos on a lecture tour in North America to raise awareness of the situation.
Much of the early parts have a horrific intensity in that we view many photos of the aftermath of several villages being destroyed. But the charred limbs and bound burnt bodies don't jar your senses like the shot of a large tire in the middle of a dirt street. Next to the tire is an axe and bloody ground. Later Steidle took video footage of a village being actively burnt from a distance. If he had ventured any closer he tells the camera, he would be killed.
Steidle points out how one village of 20,000 took a week to destroy because the Arab militia set the huts on fire methodically, one by one. Said militia also called Janjaweed allow Steidle to take their photos in a neutral city. Janjaweed is Arabic for man on a horse or devil with a gun on a horse. These rebels tell Steidle they are working for the Sudanese government. On Steidle's subsequent lecture tour some believe him and some don't.
You have to shake your head in both disbelief and shame coming out of a documentary like The Devil Came on Horseback. Better still, if someone made a documentary on why AmericanĀ¹s have no compassion for the greater world situation would anyone watch?
Brian Steidle will attend the Wednesday night (Sept. 19, at 7-ish) screening and conduct a Q&A afterwards at the downtown Angelika Film Center

- Michael Bergeron

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