The Devil Came on Horseback
We have heard quite a bit in the news media about genocide in Darfur and the war the government of Sudan has waged on its own people - it's become a popular cause for celebrities like George Clooney and Mia Farrow, and the Olympics has put further pressure on China to take a stand. (China is the biggest customer for the oil piped from this part of the customer, the underlying cause of the unrest.)
Nevertheless, a documentary like this really puts a human face on the issue. You'll come away with a keener understanding of what's at stake, the plight of the many thousands of refugees, and wondering what you can do to help.
Taking a leaf out of Hollywood's book, filmmakers Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern approach their subject through a North American hero. Brian Steidle is a former US marine who came out of the service and applied for a peace monitoring job with the African Union. At the time (2004) the 27-year-old had only the vaguest idea of where Sudan was.
It wasn't long before the ceasefire brokered between the predominantly Arabic government in Khartoum and the African towns and villages of the south and west broke down. Steidle photographed evidence of the devastating raids of the Janjaweed - Arabic militia armed by the government, who ride from village to village, torturing and killing the inhabitants and then burning every hut to the ground. This is a clear case of genocide, as even the Bush administration eventually acknowledged. But with more pressing business going on elsewhere, neither the US nor the UN has been compelled to put to a stop to it.
Steidle expresses intense frustration that he's swapped his gun for a camera, and looking at his stark, horrific photographs you can understand why he would want to take direct action against the perpetrators. Steidle is a model witness: he isn't afraid to put himself in the danger zone, and he documented everything he saw along the way. But is being a witness enough?
Returning to the US, he sets about publicizing what he has seen. An interview and photo spread in The New York Times puts the story at the top of the news agenda for a while, and he testifies to Congress and at innumerable rallies. Yet the net result is disappointing: food donations for the refugees, but no effective pressure to prevent further atrocities. The ball is left in our court. If we want our politicians to step up, we need to tell them so.
The film's snappy editing style won't be to everyone's taste, and there's a bit too much on Steidle the man (though he makes it very clear that this story is so much bigger than him). But it's a powerful, incisive film. You will be moved.