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The Devil Came on Horseback | Review

Images that Speak Louder than Words: One man’s quest to depict genocide becomes an enormous burden.

Common sense says that when an isolated tree in a deep forest several km’s away from civilization falls, that it still makes a sound. Common sense also says that if you have documented proof that genocide is unfolding then all those who have a responsibility to intervene and take action will ultimately make the sound humanitarian decision. On the heals of The Trials of Darryl Hunt a doc film about how fear reigns in a system that is silent, the docu filmaking tandem of Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern demonstrate how the recording of an ethnic cleansing and then the inability to truly reach the massive consciousness can take a psychological toll on one particular soul. Emotionally gripping and mind-boggling in the same stance, The Devil Came on Horseback thankfully avoids painting its key player as a superhero or philanthropist looking for good cause.

Sometimes it is a good thing when a photo journalist chooses not to put down their camera. Many would agree that former U.S Marine, turned amateur photographer Brian Steidle did the right thing in snapping the thousands of pictures he took, but how unlikely are the circumstances that his crusade, one that exposed the massive crimes against humanity in Darfur and his whistleblower-like tactics would in fact fall on so many deaf ears. Detailing how being tied, bound and almost gagged the second time around is indeed worse, the filmmakers show the plight of a desperate man during what should be a moment of vindication. When the doc shows Steidle talking to anyone who is willing to listen – either it be the folks that populate Capitol Hill or high-school cafeterias, it becomes more unbearable to see how the spotlight muzzles the soul and makes the entire process look like a broken record.

The documentary offers an unobstructed look into the matter – doubling as an investigation into how the massive crimes geographically occurred and how the incredible catalogue of images logged failed to stir up the controversy among high placed politicians and other news agencies with the exception of The New York Times. What’s most telling is how one man manages to carry such a burden and live with the demons: a.k.a unfazed sets of eyes from men who’ve lost a sense of perspective are spookier than land full of decapitated charred remains.

Reviewed on January 20th 2007 – Sundance Film Festival.

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at IONCINEMA.com (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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