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Docurama presents
The Devil Came on Horseback (2007)

"This is systematic ethnic cleansing or genocide. There's no other way to explain it."
- Brian Steidle

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: October 29, 2007

Stars: Brian Steidle
Other Stars: Gretchen Wallace, Nicholas Kristof, Barack Obama
Director: Annie Sundberg, Ricki Stern

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (disturbing images)
Run Time: 01h:25m:00s
Release Date: October 30, 2007
UPC: 767685101988
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In 2004, the 20-year civil war in Sudan finally ended with a ceasefire. Soon after, a severe conflict arose in the Darfur region on the countryís western side that involved massive ethnic cleansing. The unbelievable atrocities committed during this genocide received the support of the Sudanese government. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and several million others have become refugees during this time. Meanwhile, the rest of the world remains silent and focuses on more economically viable areas. The Devil Came on Horseback presents an intimate perspective on these events from an American observer. Former Marine Captain Brian Steidle was hired by the African Union to monitor the ceasefire and photograph the events, but the activity he sees is far from peaceful.

This upsetting documentary is directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, who also teamed up to film the award-winning The Trials of Darryl Hunt in 2006. Skeptics might dismiss this picture as having a liberal agenda, but its lead is not your typical social activist. Steidle comes from a military family and has fought for his country in deadly situations. As he photographed the aftermath of the brutal killings, he believed that the U.S. government would respond immediately if they viewed the carnage. A violent Arab militia called the Janjaweed (ďdevil on a horseĒ) is decimating villages and receiving arms from officials in the Sudanese government, who are also Arabs. The residents of Darfur are Africans, which makes them targets for genocide. Villagers are mowed down by gunships in the marketplace, families are burned alive, and countless women are raped. This situation mirrors the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, which did not receive foreign aid until it was too late. Steidle hopes that the United Nations will step in to save Darfur, but the probability is very low.

The first half of this film shows Steidle talking to villagers and seeing evidence of the rampant murders. He struggles daily with an inability to defend the victims and eventually decides to quit his position. Returning to the United States, Steidle works with Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times to tell his story and present the stunning photos. This creates a firestorm of press interest and a fleeting response from Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials. Itís fascinating to watch Steidle come to the realization that our leaders care little about the Sudanese people. Speaking at a rally in Washington and testifying before the International Criminal Court at The Hague, he tries to make a difference, but the outlook for the people of Darfur is chilling.

The Devil Came on Horseback provides a dry, slow-moving look at the Darfur conflict, which might turn off viewers expecting a more energetic presentation. However, itís difficult not to become enraged at the lack of response towards such an obvious injustice. Since 2003, there have been more than 400,000 deaths in Darfur, and countless others have faced serious abuse. Stern and Sandberg do a nice job letting the images speak for themselves and donít hit you over the head with overly dramatic moments. Watching the generally stoic Steidle break down after viewing these atrocities is highly poignant and requires nothing else to crank up the emotions. This moving account of his experiences can only help the situation and will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of this painful conflict.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Devil Came on Horseback is composed primarily of footage of Brian Steidle working in Sudan, so the quality isnít superb. A significant amount of grain exists on the 1.66:1 widescreen transfer. However, the quality of the image really isnít the point, and it never detracts from the subject matter.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This disc offers both 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and 2.0-channel Dolby Surround options, and both provide clear audio throughout the presentation. Neither transfer is particularly complex, but that relates more to the filmís technology than the DVD itself. Brianís comments and the movieís overall effect remain strong and make this a worthwhile release.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: While I donít expect many extras from this small-scale Docurama release, it would have been helpful to receive additional information about the Darfur situation. The only extra feature is Supporting Survivorsóa 12-minute short film that focuses on the serious problem of rapes in Chad and Darfur. Brian Steidleís sister Gretchen Wallace narrates this disturbing look at the grave issue. This piece also serves as a promo for Global Grassroots, but they do good work, so I canít complain about its inclusion.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

The Devil Came on Horseback is not the type of film you should choose for a casual night of movie-watching. However, this documentary should be enlightening if youíre interested in world issues, and it could motivate audiences to act. The tone remains low-key, but the subject matter should keep you thinking for a long time.


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