Virtually every person who has watched a news program on television or picked up a newspaper since 2003 has seen, heard or read something about Darfur. Unfortunately, few people actually know where Darfur is, let alone about the political conflicts in the region. Suffice it to say, the conflict in the area has raged on for many years for many reasons. The Devil Came On Horseback aims to shed some light on the conflict.
In 2004, Brian Steidle began a stint monitoring a ceasefire in Sudan. He was trained as a United States Marine, but this time is armed with a camera, only able to photograph and investigate, never intervene. After hearing rumours about happenings in Darfur, Steidle volunteers to be on an African Union team monitoring a ceasefire within the region and makes some shocking discoveries.
Utilizing many news bulletins, maps and archival footage along with many of Steidle's photos, The Devil Came On Horseback provides a first-hand account of the atrocities occurring in the region. The film's title refers to the Janjaweed militias in the Darfur region of Sudan and the film focuses on their activities. Many horrific photos are shown of the aftermath of Janjaweed attacks and much is made about the need for intervention. The film effectively uses maps and Steidle's accounts to tell the audience what's happening where and there's enough background knowledge given to at least provide a rationale as to why these atrocities are occurring.
The involvement of Steidle--a career military man--provides a nice outlet for many peoples' frustrations. In letters home to his sister, Steidle vents many times about the lack of action against the Janjaweed, even in the face of multiple damning reports on their attacks sent to the African Union. His job was to listen for complaints of violations of the ceasefire, investigate the complaints, decide who violated the ceasefire and file a report with recommendations. Then something was supposed to happen. Very little did.
Throughout the film, many figures--both diplomats and military folk--refer back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The phrase, "Never again," is oft-repeated, referring to the lack of United Nations involvement in that country's civil war and making obvious parallels to Sudan's situation. Directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern provide a rare look inside genocide, showing the human face of the devastation. While the advanced social studies lesson early in the film is effective, the second half of the film is rooted in interviews with survivors of the Janjaweed attacks and those displaced by them. The film transforms from educational to downright affecting.
Realistically, if people are going to get involved with the Darfur crisis, they will need to feel something beyond vague concern about the region. The Devil Came On Horseback is a tremendously effective film in terms of getting people to feel something for those touched by the Darfur crisis. Photos of victims and interviews with refugees are pretty jarring, especially when it's shown how frail these people have become as a side-effect of having everything taken away from them by the Janjaweed.
At its best, The Devil Came On Horseback is a call to action--telling audiences to do whatever they can do get politicians to do something about Darfur--and a damning indictment of the political groups that have done nothing while people have died. At worst, it's a gripping, entertaining documentary.