out of Five
Running time: 85
Powerful, impressively directed and desperately moving documentary that highlights one of the world's most vicious injustices and the shocking refusal of Western governments to do anything about it.
What's it all about?
The Devil Came On Horseback centres on Brian Steidle, a former US marine who accepted a job as an unarmed military observer in Sudan in 2004, in order to monitor a proposed ceasefire following a 20-year civil war. Instead, he witnessed the new Arab government systematically slaughtering the opposition black population in Darfur, chiefly through hiring Janjaweed militia groups (the name means devil on a horse) to burn entire villages and kill as many people as possible.
During the time he spent in Darfur, Brian amassed a huge amount of evidence, taking hundreds of photographs of the atrocities he witnessed and even interviewing Janjaweed members. However, when he embarks on a global campaign to raise awareness of the situation, he is devastated to discover that Western governments refuse to do anything about Darfur (despite formally acknowledging the genocide) because the Khartoum government denies involvement.
Co-directors Stern and Sundberg expertly frame the story so that it begins with Brian's photographs and his correspondence with his sister, Gretchen, in which he states his belief that if people back home could see his photos, the government would send in troops within the week. The latter part of the film forces him to confront the naivety of that opinion, as Western governments continue to do nothing, even as the violence spreads into neighbouring Chad and Central African Republic.
At one point, Brian travels to Rwanda and interviews genocide survivors there, in an attempt to understand how a country can rebuild itself after such horrific events. This leads to the film's central, heart-breaking observation, as he says, With Sudan, history gave us a chance to redeem ourselves for failure in Rwanda and we're failing yet again.
The Devil Came On Horseback is an important, expertly made documentary that will make you want to write angry letters to your MP. As such, it demands to be seen. Highly recommended.
The Devil Came On Horseback (15)