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The Devil Came on Horseback

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Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Next Film About Which I Am Going to Be Unrelentingly Passionate:

The Devil Came on Horseback

This may be the film I recommend most highly for 2007. It is extraordinary.

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I missed an opportunity to see this a week or so ago. Which--knowing the Pittsburgh area--will have been my only opportunity.

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Good to hear. Tomorrow I'll be attending a Dave Eggers reading of What Is the What, which is the best book I've read this year, as much because of what it says about the experience of the "Lost Boys" in America. It's a sad book in many ways, but it affected me deeply and brought to life the conflicts in Africa in a way that great art, rather than just news stories (which are also important), can.

Here's the GreenCine link to reviews and discussion of this film.

Edited by Christian

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In truth, I can't really say that I know anything new about Darfur from this film, because I've been studying it for a project for almost a full year now. But there's knowing and there's knowing... Following Brian Steidle on his patrols through the region, we experience it with him, we take on a bit of his burden, and I believe many will find that the movie lights a fire under them to spend urgent time in prayer and in whatever they can do to bring about change. It's a galvanizing film.

In fact, when I think about it, it's the kind of film that should exist alongside Into Great Silence. The two films have a lot to say to each other on the "silence" of God, on the kind of effort that real faith requires.

I may well end up pairing these films as my top pick of the year.

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I didn't know about the strong faith angle in Horseback, so thanks.

Just an hour ago, I grabbed "Lost Boys of Sudan" off the shelf at the library. It's from 2003 -- maybe aired on PBS, but I can't tell.

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There *isn't* a strong "faith angle" in Horseback, unless you come to it with a faith-informed perspective. And that's exactly why I think it is important for Christians to see and discuss it, especially in relation to Into Great Silence.

In some ways, it's just another documentary of atrocities and human depravity. But I've never seen a film that takes you right into it, while it's really happening, quite like this.

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SDG   
There *isn't* a strong "faith angle" in Horseback, unless you come to it with a faith-informed perspective. And that's exactly why I think it is important for Christians to see and discuss it, especially in relation to Into Great Silence.

:blink:

Okay, now you know you got my attention. (Not that you didn't before.)

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Here's what I mean: As a believer who constantly insists that God is present even in the face of atrocity, I am always working these things out in my head. But going there, into the atrocity, and seeing what Brian Steidle has seen... that's different. Experiencing it, even through a camera... it makes that claim an even greater step of faith. I don't know that I have been so shaken by God's silence than I have been in seeing this film. Reading about the Holocaust is one thing. Being there, via a camera, to see it unfold and sharing Steidle's feelings of helplessness and uselessness... that's something else.

So, no, I doubt anybody else will end up talking about Into Great Silence while they review this film. But it just impressed upon me just how greatly we need people devoted to lives of prayer, because what you see in this film will drive you to turn to any source of help. And seeing this, it's clear there is really only one Source who can bring any hope, any sense, any healing to this appalling crisis.

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Worth reading:

http://daily.greencine.com/archives/003133.html

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/devil_came_on_horseback/

I can only echo Darghis: "Brutal, urgent, devastating -- the documentary The Devil Came on Horseback demands to be seen as soon as possible and by as many viewers as possible."

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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I've got God Grew Tired of Us coming to me in a few weeks (long "holds" queue for few copies, apparently), but I did get hold of the companion book several weeks ago, shortly after completing the Eggers book. I dove in, eager to learn even more, but found the book a bit by-the-numbers, if memory serves. I found myself skimming it after the first 30 pages.

I wondered if Eggers' composite character -- based on one person's life, but embellished with real-life experience from other sources -- made for a richer, more multifaceted experience for me as a reader. That's not to take away from Dau's story, which may hit me in a new way when I see the film, but I just wasn't as drawn in with that book as I was with Valentino's story (that's the name of the protagonist).

Another thing: I can't recall the details of Bau's story, but based on what I can glean from Brian's story as sketched out by Jeffrey, it sounds like Horseback might be an appeal to Christians in particular. If so, I'm afraid that I'm a bit skeptical, and that's due, again, to Eggers' book, wherein he tells of how the Lost Boys (through Valentino's voice) knew how to exploit the zeal of Christians and other humanitarian groups. The details are a little fuzzy in my memory just now, but suffice to say that I look askance at any overt efforts by Christian relief agencies to get me to donate money or other forms of support to this cause. Not that it's not worthy -- it most certainly is. But if Eggers accurately captured a reality of these Lost Boys in those passages, it's worth considering just how to support these people. They've been through hell, but as Eggers' book shows, they understand how to play on the emotions of Americans. Also, they face a different set of challenges when they arrive on these shores, FWIW (as the "Lost Boys" documentary covers, if the DVD jacket can be believed).

I know the previous paragraph doesn't really hang together, and would be more powerful if I could cite what, exactly, Eggers wrote, but even then, it's a work of "fiction" that suggests something that's not actually documented in What Is the What. However, it has the ring of truth, if you know what I mean.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't get involved. I'm just wondering how to contextualize the Eggers story with these other films and books. But it would help if I watched/read them first, of course.

I'm getting to it.

Edited by Christian

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My question to Steidle during the audience Q&A was, in short, this:

"I can completely understand, and second, your words about feeling an overwhelming desire to 'go in there' and to 'do something.' You talked about how you wanted permission to move in, and the implication was... with force. But I can't help checking my emotional response with the sobering knowledge of what has come about recently. We saw a cruel oppressor. We 'moved in' in order to defend the oppressed and 'remove the threat.' And even if we did have good intentions in doing so, we created a situation in which an even more terrifying and damaging violence was unleashed... a crisis we are far less likely to resolve. So what are we to do with that desire to 'move in', when 'moving in' might only make things worse?"

His response, as best as I can remember it, had to do with creating a no-fly zone, using the routine fly-overs that already exist to his tactical hot spots which would destroy Janjaweed resources rather than civilian spots. But that's complicated, he said, because the government-supported barbarians can manipulate the oil pipelines, in order to cut fuel off from those who need it, and fuel their own machines. Since other countries (China especially) are depending on those oil resources, it could indeed make a bad situation worse.

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Exactly.

There were some World Vision reps there at the fest, but they arrived quietly, and thus the organizers didn't realize they had an opportunity to bring them to the stage for the post-viewing discussion as well. I think that might have brought a stronger sense of hope to the ensuing discussions, because World Vision and other organizations really are doing some brave and essential work in Sudan right now. This film paints an appropriately grim picture, but there are glimmers of grace scattered across the landscape even now.

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Russ wrote:

: But it's interesting how Darfur became a sort of easily-identifiable humanitarian draw that isn't affiliated with any particular political or religious sect.

Interesting ... I've always perceived this as one of those things where the religious community was trying to raise awareness before George Clooney and the others came alone. (A Christian website that I work for has been reporting on the situation in Sudan since at least 1999, i.e. since at least a year or two after it went online.)

Incidentally, has anybody here seen Darfur Now? I missed a preview screening a week or two ago, but there's another one coming up that I'm considering ...

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: And even if we did have good intentions in doing so, we created a situation in which an even more terrifying and damaging violence was unleashed...

Even more terrifying and damaging? Compared to what happened under Saddam's regime? In some times and places, sure, but with regard to the bigger picture, I've heard otherwise; if we are more "terrified" than we were before, it may be because we are there now and paying attention now. But I guess this isn't the thread for that, so... moving on...

: His response, as best as I can remember it, had to do with creating a no-fly zone, using the routine fly-overs that already exist to his tactical hot spots which would destroy Janjaweed resources rather than civilian spots. But that's complicated, he said, because the government-supported barbarians can manipulate the oil pipelines, in order to cut fuel off from those who need it, and fuel their own machines. Since other countries (China especially) are depending on those oil resources, it could indeed make a bad situation worse.

Yeah, and there were no-fly zones over sections of Iraq between the two Gulf Wars, too. No-fly zones might not satisfy people. They might, indeed, be seen as a precursor to something else.

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mrmando   
Even more terrifying and damaging? Compared to what happened under Saddam's regime? In some times and places, sure, but with regard to the bigger picture, I've heard otherwise; if we are more "terrified" than we were before, it may be because we are there now and paying attention now. But I guess this isn't the thread for that, so... moving on...

Well, maybe more terrifying in the sense that things were more predictable under Saddam than they are now. One at least knew where the terror would come from, and one had some idea of which loyalties offered some protection from harm. That predictability is gone now. It's hard indeed, though, to say whether any analogies can be directly drawn from Iraq to Darfur.

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Anders   
Even more terrifying and damaging? Compared to what happened under Saddam's regime? In some times and places, sure, but with regard to the bigger picture, I've heard otherwise; if we are more "terrified" than we were before, it may be because we are there now and paying attention now. But I guess this isn't the thread for that, so... moving on...

Or perhaps "even more" as in "continuing" or "ongoing," rather than "greater" or "intensified." So perhaps the "even more" is modifying "violence" rather than "terrifying and damaging."

Edited by Anders

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Anders wrote:

: Or perhaps "even more" as in "continuing" or "ongoing," rather than "greater" or "intensified." So perhaps the "even more" is modifying "violence" rather than "terrifying and damaging."

Well, that sounds like a difference that makes no difference; that is, it makes no difference to my point, and it arguably weakens Jeffrey's point.

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To clarify: Lying behind my earlier point is the fact that, at some point between the 2003 invasion and today, estimates by humanitarian groups indicated that the average death toll in Iraq went DOWN after the invasion compared to what it was before the invasion. That may or may not be true any more, I don't know. But if, as you say, "even more" was being applied to the quantity of the violence, rather than the quality of the violence, then my response to that point still stands. The death rate might not have stopped -- it may have been "ongoing" as you say -- but for a time, at least, it did seem to go down. (Assuming we trust the estimates made by humanitarian groups, that is.)

Of course, now there's talk of Turkey invading Iraq and America invading Iran and so on and so on, and we don't really know which way the dominoes are going to fall this time -- just as, in 1914, probably no one could have foreseen the collapse of Tsarist Russia, the Ottoman empire, and a handful of other regimes all because someone assassinated an archduke in Sarajevo. Presumably there would be other dominoes in Sudan, too.

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Ron Reed   

I'm pretty sure I won't be able to bring myself to watch this one. When HOTEL RWANDA was in theatres, I saw that, and combined with my friends' accounts of their experiences in Africa, I went into a ten or twelve-month tailspin that I'd be scared to repeat. I know it's no good playing ostrich, sticking my head in the sand, but I've got real qualms about viewing atrocities I can do nothing to change. Others may have a thicker skin, but I can find myself paralyzed, and I don't know that that serves any purpose.

Cowardly,

Ron

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DanBuck   

One could argue that even in an unchangable situation (one beyond your control or even an historic event) can do the work of soul softening. But it may sound like your soul's been well tenderized.

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Ron Reed   
One could argue that even in an unchangable situation (one beyond your control or even an historic event) can do the work of soul softening. But it may sound like your soul's been well tenderized.

In that particular instance, pulverized. Not the film's fault: utterly subjective response in that case, all about the timing. But it does make me leery (Leary? I wish...) of going there again.

Still, I have been screwing up my courage to view SHOOTING DOGS and SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL, so maybe I oughta throw HORSEBACK into the mix as well. I do see it's showing soon (briefly) at a local art theatre.

What the heck, here's a link to the piece I wrote as I began to emerge from my HOTEL RWANDA-induced disorientation.

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Darfur tale "Devil" gets feature treatment

"The Devil Came on Horseback," a harrowing Darfur memoir that served as the basis for a 2007 documentary, will hit the big screen again as a narrative feature. In a deal sealed before Hollywood writers went on strike last November, producers Jen Chaiken ("My Flesh and Blood") and Sebastian Dungan ("Transamerica") acquired rights to the former U.S. Marine captain Brian Steidle's 2007 book and hired journalist David Freed to adapt the screenplay.

Reuters, January 11

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Finally saw this.

Liked it, overall, save for the weird section beginning with the Obama interview and proceeding to the rally where Steidle seems to advocate the idea that the U.S. should act unilaterally as the world's policeman (he didn't use those words, of course, but given that he's making his statement RIGHT AFTER the scenes where Obama and others diss the not-quite-unilateral Iraq campaign, it was a jarring moment).

The film works very well as an account of Steidle's personal journey. And I was pretty moved by the scene where the one Muslim guy praised the Americans for DOING something, even if it was just coming down to ask how people were doing, whereas the Arab nations hadn't done ANYTHING, despite their proximity and their wealth and their shared religion, etc., etc.

But I regret to say the movie didn't shock or startle me all that much, mainly because it really did seem like Rwanda II -- on a whole number of levels -- and that includes the way the people relied at points on ineffectual institutions like the United Nations, etc. Don't get me wrong: the atrocities depicted here are awful in the extreme, and I would absolutely hate to live through experiences like these, and I hope a LOT more international pressure is placed on the Sudanese government. But I didn't have the earth-shattering emotional response to the film that some people here have had or expect to have.

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