A former US Marine, Brian Steidle was hired by the African Union to document the genocide in Darfur. Shocked and horrified by what he saw—and recorded in notes and harrowing photographs—Steidle came back to the US determined to share his experiences with the world, hoping to raise awareness. What resulted is a harrowing story told in two mediums: a documentary film and a book (Public Affairs)—both titled The Devil Cameon Horseback. As it turns out there’s high demand for the movie, which just came out, amongst government agencies and regular folks, though the film is, at present, hard to find. Right now it’s touring film festivals and playing in a few theatres. Steidle talked with PW about sending his message two ways and what we can all do to make a difference in Darfur.
At what point did you realize you needed to make your experiences into a movie and book?
We were working on both at the same time. I always thought about writing a book about what was going on there, and when we came back, my sister and I approached the filmmakers and talked about working on a film. At the same time we were working on getting the book up and running. We wanted to tell a story and try to make a difference and to tell it in as many different mediums as possible. Those were two, and we’re currently just starting on a project through Hollywood, a feature film based on the book and my story.
You talk in the book about your anxiety about going public with what you saw. Has there been any fallout, now that the book and documentary are out?
I wanted to make sure it was done in the right way so that I didn’t offend anyone, except the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed, which I really don’t care about. But I want to make sure I didn’t put our government in a damaging position because I was indirectly working for them as a US representative. That anxiety came from wanting to make sure it was done in the most respectful way. For instance, now, I’ll go to rallies and speak, but if somebody’s calling it a demonstration or a protest, I won’t go. It may be the exact same thing, but I think those are negative terms that are not too constructive.
And that’s the reaction you’ve been getting?
Absolutely. We’ve got tremendous support. When I first started coming out public, I think there was some concern from the government about me possibly putting them in a unique position with the Sudanese government, something they’d have to defend themselves against. It didn’t end up that way, and everybody understands. We’ve had requests from the State Department to show the film, and I’ve spoken at the navel academy and West Point and just had a recent request from the Coast Guard academy, and we’ve had many requests from military stations over seas to get the film in because they want to know more and how they can be used to influence the situation.
Realistically, what impact are you hoping the film and book can have, or what impact do you feel they are having right now?
The greatest impact is to educate people about the situation, what’s going on on the ground, what it looks like, what it looked like when I was there, and also to give them the tools to try to make a difference--such as calling senators and congressmen--to be able to educate them, to motivate them to do something. Darfur is one situation, and in my mind it’s the most timely, because it is a genocide going on, but simply getting people aware of the tools to engage their government in social issues like this can carry on to many other issues in the future.