Through soldier’s eyes, doc exposes horrors in Sudan
Retired Marine Capt. Brian Steidle told the filmmakers he wasn’t ready for the horrors he saw working recently for the African Union in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Steidle had returned to the United States with photographs and reports taken from the nightmare that continues in the African nation.
"He spoke to senators and congressmen about what he had witnessed in Darfur," said filmmaker Ricki Stern. "Brian went on a personal journey to enlighten people on a very grass-roots level."
Steidle’s story is the subject of "The Devil Came on Horseback," a documentary slated to debut in the Spectrum category at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Jan. 19 at 8:30 p.m.
"I hope what happens at Sundance, is people get angry and are moved to action. There is a base response that we should all have to it to witnessing this sort of genocide," said Stern who wrote and directed the film with fellow New Yorker Annie Sundberg.
According to Sundberg, "I’m hoping that people will have some form of human empathy, that they will at least understand what it is like to be on the ground in Darfur connect with the Darfurians."
"It’s really easy to make Africa this very, very far away place with lots of problems," Sundberg said, adding, "I feel that collective, international pressure will have an impact on changing Sudanese government policy and will have an impact on how other international states involve themselves with Sudan."
"The Devil Came on Horseback" explores acts of genocide that unfolded as the Arab, so-called Janjaweed militias, destroyed black villages while Steidle spent 18 months in western Sudan, Stern explained in an interview with The Park Record.
"His photos show body after body after body of people, children and women and men, butchered to death, as well as villages completely ransacked and if not burned to the ground, everything pillaged," she said while she was still editing the documentary in December. "The film is graphic because it needs to be."
Having claimed 400,000 lives and displaced millions since it began in 2003, violence in Darfur escalated this year as Steidle’s story was put to film.
"It’s an amazing opportunity to expose the photographs in a way that we weren’t sure the general media would be able to do," said Stern, adding that some of the pictures appeared in the New York Times. "Darfur has taken place over three years and we still haven’t done anything."
An unarmed soldier in Africa
The filmmakers became aware of Steidle after he took a job in Sudan as an unarmed ceasefire monitor for a private contractor employed by the African Union.
"While they were (in Sudan) they were hearing about and seeing confidential reports from the African Union that was stationed in Darfur," Stern said.
For "The Devil Came on Horseback" the women had exclusive access to about 1,000 photographs taken by people closer to the Darfur conflict than many journalists.
"The movie illustrates what happened. It really has a suspenseful thrill to it because you’re following Brian’s journey. As he begins to realize and witness the horrors that were going on, so does the audience," Stern said. "The government of Sudan is actually supplying the Janjaweed militia with military means. They’re hiring them to go into these villages and attack."
‘It’s all in the film’
Having made their mark last year at Sundance with the documentary, "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," with "The Devil Came on Horseback," Stern and Sundberg attempt to portray the life of a different everyman.
"When we met Brian he had left Darfur and he could never return," Stern said. "Until you see this film, you don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of this everyday war."
When she and Steidle met, Stern concedes she knew little about the conflict in Darfur.
"It’s quite dangerous obviously to go into Darfur," she said. "[The film] gives you an opportunity to meet these people and to really know them as individuals. You feel for them when you hear their stories."
With brutality in Darfur continuing to generate headlines, Stern says her documentary will interest Sundance filmgoers.
"The people of Darfur are looking to the American people, they are looking to the government of the United States to do something," she said. "The story is happening right now."
"We’re anticipating an amazing Q and A afterwards."
"The Devil Came on Horseback" is scheduled to screen at Library Center Theatre in Park City Jan. 19 at 8:30 p.m., Broadway Center Cinemas IV in Salt Lake City Jan. 21 at 3 p.m., Holiday Village Cinema II in Park City Jan. 22 at 11:30 p.m. and Egyptian Theatre in Park City Jan. 26 at noon.
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