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The Reeler Blog

Giving Devil its Due

I remember the phone ringing on a freezing day last January, and shortly afterward being piped into a conference call. On the other end of the line, filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg greeted me with strained hellos. "How long is this going to take?" Stern asked. I hedged. Five minutes? Ten? They each exhaled with relief. After all, they were still sound mixing their latest film, the Darfur documentary The Devil Came on Horseback, mere days before it was to premiere at Sundance. No rush, right?

It was, in fact, their second Sundance documentary in two years, following the acclaimed The Trials of Darryl Hunt. But the quick turnaround to a Park City encore belied the pair's grueling journey to Devil, a chronicle of ex-Marine Brian Steidle's photographic record of Darfur during the genocide campaigns of 2004-05. (The film opened Wednesday in New York.) In our interview at the time, Sundberg told The Reeler about Americans' slow-burning awareness of the region's horror amid the more immediate crises of Iraq and Katrina:

For us, it was really just seeing the ups and downs in Brian's story. He was really sort of a voice crying in the wilderness; he had 15 minutes where he could command attention and then it would all fall away again. We would see how the issue couldn't gain traction, and then finally in the spring of 2006, I really do think that the rally had an impact on the American and international media -- the big event that happened in D.C. I think for the first time it was literally an en masse showing of support, and that was when I started to think that people were really getting it in America.

Three months later, The Devil Came on Horseback arrived "home" at the Tribeca Film Festival. Eric Kohn reviewed the film for The Reeler:

Consistent in its method and indisputably well-made, The Devil Came on Horseback could do for Darfur awareness what An Inconvenient Truth did for global warming. ... Sundberg and Stern use Steidle as their anchor, combining his narration with footage shot in Darfur and in the United States to craft a timeless narrative: Mr. Smith goes to Washington, but he can’t make it to the Senate floor. One of the most receptive audiences to Steidle’s speeches, interestingly enough, comes from Jewish communities. It takes an experienced eye to recognize a Holocaust in action, apparently.

Presently you can check out Devil in its initial run at IFC Center; Stern and Sundberg will be in attendance through Saturday to answer questions following each evening's 6:30 and 8:30 screenings. Anticipate a more relaxed, if no less important, discussion then; I'm pretty sure that January interlude was only the beginning.

Posted at July 25, 2007 10:04 PM

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