Written by Rebecca Lee Martyn
Rebecca Lee Martyn is back home in Hong Kong this summer interning at non-profit organization Cross Roads Foundation. This summer, along with the UN’s Refugee Agency, they hosted Hong Kong’s 2009 Refugee Film Festival. Rebecca got a chance to watch the doc The Devil Came on Horseback – here is the review she wrote for McClung’s.
Film: The Devil Came on Horseback
Director: Annie Standberg, Ricki Stern
Some things, I just don’t understand. For one, the lengths that people will go for a bit of power and money confuses me greatly, especially at the cost of others’, and more disturbingly, at the cost of others’ lives, as in the example of The Holocaust, the Rawandan genocide, and now, the genocide in Darfur. This repeat of history really forces us to question just how fucked up some things are, and leaves me shaking with the possibility that someone else could tear the envelope and pull out something even more extreme.
The Devil Came on Horseback, is a documentary that follows the story of former U.S. Marines Captain Brian Steidle, who left the military and took on the position of a military observer with the African Union to monitor the situation in Sudan post the 2004 ceasefire agreement. Not originally placed in Darfur, Steidle volunteered to be assigned to the Darfur region, which was not included in the ceasefire. What he found in Darfur, appeared to tear him apart more than any open comat situation previous; unlike his experiences in the marines where opposition was shown with a gun in hand, he was with only a camera “to watch people die…and [take] pictures of them.”
The images Steidle captured left me feeling sick— and I am strong of stomach; I can hardly imagine the guilt of feeling helpless to these situations; like at a girls’ school, the fathers were trying to save their huddling charred daughters on the bare ground. I can not agree with Steidle’s feeling however, that a gun would have relieved – if not worsened – the terror unleashed by the government backed Janjaweed and I am glad that when he became too overwhelmed by the situation he left and was not subdued by his attraction to a gun’s trigger.
Certainly, his feelings of helplessness were not minimized by his return to middle America. Through a series of connections, his photographs documenting his time spent in Darfur, came to the attention of the New York Times, who offered to publish them. Taking the move to expose the atrocities of genocide could not be an easy decision, but in doing so, Steidle allowed many a keyhole peer into Darfur.
I do not doubt that filmmakers Annie Standberg and Ricki Stern have managed to insight a riot in the minds of many, but the real test of this documentary is in the action instigated by the riot; how it will inspire the common person to act. The one downfall that came screaming out at me, and may be a buffer to action, was its relentless militaristic American perspective, with Stiedle really truly believing his country to be the castle of the world, and that with an extra gun, he would have a positive effect on the situation.
The crown this documentary placed on the American military was far too shiny, and the throne far too high; instead of looking at the parties involved in the conflict as siblings and contemporaries, at times I felt it failed to preserve the pride and dignity of those who have been directly affected by the situation. This was amplified by the choice of interviewees to include: women caught on camera for emotional impact, one man extremely grateful for American assistance, after proclaiming no help from the Islamic world, (and to which Steidle proudly comments on, that when he is in the presence of those who have been directly affected by the conflict, the people can feel the presence of Geroge Bush in the room, and are happy for that), and a Jajaweed defector whose orders were to “go kill.”
That being said, I do not denounce the efforts of Steidle, nor those involved in the production of the film, as I believe that their desire to act for the better of the situation is sincere; we just come from two very different places and perspectives.
The Devil Came on Horseback is worth a watch if it’s showing at a cinema near you, but is not worth an onerous trek. Instead, I would recommended taking a look at Steidle’s photographs and reading up on the situation or attending a rally and talking to several people involved in the efforts to lessen the hell in Darfur, as relying on the film solely will leave one with a limited view of the hell in Darfur. To date, 450, 000 have been killed, 2.5 million have been displaced, and media attention has died down, but in Darfur, the war is still waging.
For Steidle’s photography and witness testimony click here.
For more information, visit Save Darfur.