The title of this movie is a reference to a gang of people in Africa, known as the Janjaweed. Thousands of people have died at the hands of the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed burned down and destroyed tons and tons of villages and camps. The people who lived in them were brutally murdered, if they were men, and viciously raped and then murdered, if they were women.
A man named Brian Steidle, went to the areas in Africa where these Janjaweed were committing these crimes. He documented their violence in photographs and diary entries, which he culled together into a 2007 book with the same name. Steidle never set out to write a book. He did so mainly out of frustration.
Besides the fact that millions of innocent people were being slaughtered in vile terrorist acts that for many were tantamount to genocide, Steidle was frustrated because nothing was being done to stop the Janjaweed, or help the people being massacred. Hundreds of thousands of non-Arab people from the Sudan died and for years, no one lifted a finger to intervene.
Steidle, who was a trained Marine, wanted to get some guys and some guns and get out there and start defending those innocent people. Our government did in fact send him there to observe and document the situation, the so-called cease-fire, as well as send back reports, so the government could ascertain what to do.
Steidle went. He observed. He documented, and he sent back the reports, 80 in total. He then waited. He waited some more, and then he waited again, and nothing. Nothing happened.
Steidle documented in detail the atrocities and the horrors that were occurring on a daily basis by the Janjaweed. He saw first-hand the mothers, the fathers and the children who were being raped and burned, and nothing was being done about it. Steidle wanted to know why. He wanted to know why our government, or any government for that matter, was not doing anything to stop the Janjaweed.
THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK is the powerful documentary by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, as they sit with Brian Steidle and recount with him his experiences in Darfur. The shock and awe come when Steidle learns that one of the reasons the government isn't doing anything to stop the Janjaweed, and not just the American government, but also the Khartoum government, was because the Janjaweed was supported by Khartoum and the government hired them.
Steidle goes to the New York Times. He attends a rally with Sen. Barack Obama. He goes on speaking tours. He goes on television. He does everything he can to raise awareness and get people motivated to help in Darfur, and he keeps hitting brick walls. He even tries to go away and forget about the death and the destruction he bore witness, but he can't. The poor nation with its limited resources with people who struggle just to get drops of water, being tortured and mutilated, as they were, is something Steidle cannot get out of his mind.
Steidle recalls the lessons that apparently weren't learned after Rwanda. For Steidle, these few years have a profound effect on him, and the filmmakers capture his heartache and even his passion about wanting to do something to change it. It's a story that becomes deeply personal, and you can't help but be touched, and want to join, or at least empathize.
In 2009, a feature-length film will be adapted based on this documentary and even have the same title. In the meantime, enjoy this heart-wrenching piece.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but Contains Scenes of Graphic Violence.
Running Time: 1hr. and 25 mins.