The Devil Came on Horseback (2007)

A review by Jeffrey Overstreet
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Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern
Directors of photography – Jerry Risius, Phil Cox, Tim Hetherington, William Rexer II, Anne Sundberg and John Keith Wasson
Editor – Joey Grossfield
Music – Paul Brill
Producer – Anne Sundberg, Ricki Stern, Gretchen Wallace, Jane Wells, Ira Lechner, and Eileen Haag and Cristina Ljungberg
International Film Circuit. 85 minutes. This film is not rated.

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We’ve seen a lot of American heroes saunter across the big screen with their shotguns in hand. But if you want to be truly inspired by a real-world hero whose camera is more powerful than any firearm, watch The Devil Came On Horseback.

And then join the struggle, because this clash of good versus evil is still going on, even as you read this.

Accustomed to carrying weapons, former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle felt rather useless, pointing and shooting with his camera while shocking violence played out before his eyes. Steidle patrolled the African country of Sudan in 2006, and he captured essential evidence about what is happening there. It’s genocide, carried out in broad daylight, against men, women, and children, while the world does nothing to stop it.

What Steidle witnessed there – no human being should have to see such horrors. And yet, Steidle is on a mission to wake up the world’s conscience. He wants to startle us into action. So he fills this movie with images that will be hard for you to forget.

We watch as African natives are slaughtered by the Janjaweed barbarians. And we cringe as he learns how the Arab-dominated Sudanese government is funding and supporting these killers. Most of us know that the U.S. has declared the atrocities against the Africans as fitting the textbook definition of genocide. But Steidle makes it clear that this situation will not be resolved by declarations, or protests… or documentaries for that matter.

Exposing evidence no one else could seize, he hopes his vivid photographs will inspire us to rise up and demand action. He wants our government, and others, to reach out and stop this holocaust before it is too late.

His experiences are hard to believe. He shows us the pictures of unbelievable carnage, the aerial views of the villages as they are being looted and burned, and zoom-lens shots of the butchers moving on in their trucks. We are making eye contact with the killers. The truck is bristling with rifles like spines on a porcupine.

For some, the film will seem to focus too much on Steidle’s personal experience. Director Rickie Stern explained to the audience at the City of the Angels Film Festival that Steidle had to be persuaded to become a focus. Stern believed, and rightly so, that the story would be more immediate and affecting if we got to know Steidle. If we travel with him into the territory, and participate in his dawning realization of what was happening, we will share in his intensifying zeal to get involved and to change things.

The images take their toll. After the screening, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. It’s hard to know what to do with a surge of desire to make things right. Send money? Write letters? The answer is… yes.

But the answer has to be more than that.

It must involve prayer.

It must involve educating family, friends, and especially children… so they know how to make a difference over the long term. As Frederick Buechner has written, “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.” Steidle takes us into the experience of the Sudanese people. It is a terrible place to be. But Christ dwells in places like this, and to serve him we must follow him.

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