The Devil Came On Horseback

If you don't already have a handle on the complicated conflict at the heart of Darfur's ongoing genocide, you probably won't come away from this harrowing documentary with any comprehensive understanding. Instead, Brian Steidle's first-person account of the months he spent in the western Sudanese province working as part of an African Union monitoring team,...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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If you don't already have a handle on the complicated conflict at the heart of Darfur's ongoing genocide, you probably won't come away from this harrowing documentary with any comprehensive understanding. Instead, Brian Steidle's first-person account of the months he spent in the western Sudanese province working as part of an African Union monitoring team, and the shocking images he captured with his camera, serve as a hellish atrocity exhibition that must be seen to be truly believed.

After finishing out his four-and-a-half years of required service with the U.S. Marines, Steidle began exploring the idea of further quenching his thirst for travel and adventure by taking a job with a private military contractor. Steidle got more than he bargained for on both fronts when, in late 2003, he answered an Internet posting and was hired as a patrol leader in Sudan, a country only just emerging from a devastating 20-year civil war between the Arab-Muslim north and Christian/Anima south. Steidle was assigned to an unarmed monitoring team charged with overseeing the recent cease-fire arrangements, but as the north and south hashed out their uneasy peace, Steidle got word of a greater disaster unfolding in the west, in the Muslim region of Darfur. There, it was rumored, bands of heavily armed Arab militias known as "Janjaweed" (an Arab word meaning "ruffian" that also happens to combine the words for "devil" and "horse") were methodically targeting civilians, swooping down on villages, burning houses and crops, raping women and children, and murdering everything in their paths. Worse, many sources insisted the Janjaweed were being armed and assisted by the Sudanese government. In addition to the steadily mounting body count, the large-scale murder spree was creating an unprecedented displaced-persons crisis, with terrified Darfurians seeking refuge from their would-be murderers and the famine they were deliberately creating in neighboring Chad, itself an unstable nation continually on the brink of collapse. And as if the situation couldn't get any worse, the disease-ridden DP camps were also being targeted by the Janjaweed as they carried out the Sudanese government's terrible plan to permanently alter Darfur's demographic makeup through murder.

Armed with only a waterproof notebook and a camera, Steidle recorded everything he saw in all its agonizing detail, and returned to the U.S. with the somewhat naive belief that the rest of the world needed only to see what was happening in Darfur to act. He was sadly wrong, but his work was crucial to whatever consciousness-raising has occurred. Like Steidle's own published account, The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur, the film offers little in the way of context, and Steidle too often reduces this complicated knot of Arab nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, African geopolitics and age-old tribal conflicts down to a simple matter of one group of people killing another because of the color of their skin. If it were only that simple.

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  • Released: 2007
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: If you don't already have a handle on the complicated conflict at the heart of Darfur's ongoing genocide, you probably won't come away from this harrowing documentary with any comprehensive understanding. Instead, Brian Steidle's first-person account of th… (more)
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