Bearing witness to Darfur's genocide

Posted: August 24, 2007

Capt. Brian Steidle, USMC, trained to shoot guns, not pictures.

But in the killing fields of Darfur, the American soldier-turned-African Union observer found that a camera was his most effective weapon.

During 2004, Steidle photographed the carnage wrought by Sudanese Arab militias, or "Janjaweed" ("devil on horseback"), against the mostly black villagers in the Darfur region. Over 200,000 civilians have been killed and millions more displaced.

Steidle accumulated conclusive evidence of genocide. And as captured by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg in the galvanizing The Devil Came on Horseback, Steidle isn't going to stop talking about Darfur until world leaders stop the genocide.

An introduction to the crisis in Sudan that culminates in a call to action, Devil tells its story from Steidle's perspective.

Through the hollow, haunted eyes of the humanist-next-door, 30, we see the decimated villages and dismembered limbs. We see tribesmen afraid to hunt for fear of castration and tribeswomen afraid to collect water for fear of rape. We see survivors grieving the loss of beloved parents, children, spouses.

And we see the Arab-majority Sudanese government, sponsors of the Janjaweed that clear the land so that oil pipelines can be laid (and the government can reap the profits), deny charges of genocide.

What, asks Steidle, does he have to do to raise national and international consciousness on this issue?

Though incites its viewers to join Steidle's humanist fight, the undeniably heartfelt movie might be more effective if, like the book What Is the What, it had told the story of a survivor of the Sudanese genocide rather than a witness to it.

The Devil Came on Horseback ***(out of 4 stars)

Written and directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg. With Brian Steidle, distributed by IFC.

Running time: 1 hour, 25 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (images of torture, dismemberment and genocide)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at

comments powered by Disqus