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Taking sides

The Devil Came on Horseback; La faute à Fidel
By GERALD PEARY  |  August 15, 2007

VIDEO: The trailer for The Devil Came on Horseback

Have you been remiss in taking a stand on the killing war in Darfur because the situation there seems too complex to understand? Arriving this Friday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Screening Room, THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK aims to sort things out for you. Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg argue that the civil war in western Sudan is easy to grasp: there’s a good side and a very evil one. The decent folks are Darfur’s black Africans. Also good guys are two rebel forces, the SLA (the Sudanese Liberation Army) and the Justice and Equality Movement.

The bad guys? The Arabic central government in Khartoum, which is behind the racist genocide of black Africans residing in Darfur. And “genocide” is the appropriate word for the systematic rape, torture, and killing of between 200,000 and 400,000 Darfuri villagers. The actual evildoers are Islamic militia, who roam freely through the province, with rifles and trucks supplied by the government. They also gallop about the desert on fancy steeds. They are the notorious “Janjaweed,” the “devils on horseback.”

The filmmakers utilize a simple but effective plan to make the information above meaningful, and palatable. It’s filtered through the first-hand experience of an American witness to the Sudanese war. Our Man in Darfur, the documentary’s protagonist, is a regular joe, crewcut Brian Steidle, who, after his time was up in the Marines, applied for overseas employment. “Patrol leader, Sudan” was the cryptic Internet job description. The documentary takes you to the to the one-room hut in the Sudanese wilderness where Steidle set up camp. His further job description: “Monitor the ceasefire.” Soon after, in 2004, he found himself moving about Darfur from village to village under siege from the Janjaweed. Amid the burned-down homes and the dead bodies, he bravely took photographs.

The second part of The Devil Came on Horseback tells us what happened when Steidle returned home. He was certain that when other Americans saw his photographs, we’d liberate Darfur. He met with congressmen, he met with Condoleezza Rice. Everyone was concerned; nothing was done. His pessimistic conclusion: “I knew bad things happened. I didn’t think people would allow these things to happen.”

Will we finally help in Darfur? The Devil Came on Horseback ends with a list of organizations for Americans to join. At the top:

What’s the last time you saw a really good French film? I recommend LA FAUTE À FIDEL|BLAME IT ON FIDEL, which opens this Friday at the Kendall Square, after screening at the MFA last month as part of the Boston French Film Festival. Directed by Julie Gavras (Costa-Gavras’s daughter), and set in the early 1970s, it’s a family drama about affluent parents who suddenly go radical, and about how their political conversion affects their children, especially their nine-year-old daughter, Anna (a wonderful Nina Kervel-Bey). She’s been happy as a petite bourgeoise, attending Catholic school and visiting with her De Gaullist patrician grandparents. The more her parents embrace progressive causes like supporting Salvador Allende’s election in Chile, the more estranged Anna becomes, and the more entrenched as a right-wing, anti-Communist kid.

Except for dragging her to a demonstration, Anna’s parents are remarkably free with their reactionary-thinking progeny, allowing her to believe whatever she wishes. Ditto this open-minded film, which trusts the audience to pick among the various ideologies warring among its characters. The late Allende would have approved: La faute Fidel is a movie of the true democratic left.

Related: Casting ballots, Hell on earth, Africans suffer while the world stands by, More more >
  Topics: Film Culture , Politics, Sudan Liberation Movement, Crime,  More more >
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