Critic’s Pick: ‘Desert Riders’ explores camel racing’s toll on humans

Documentary filmmaker Vic Sarin exposes the trafficking of young boys to race as camel jockeys in the so-called "sport of kings."
(Vic Sarin)

Vic Sarin’s “Desert Riders” is haunting for its beauty -- and its ugliness. The veteran cinematographer and documentary filmmaker takes us into the vast deserts of the Middle East to expose the human trafficking attached to camel racing, the so-called “sport of kings.”

Sarin comes at his topic with a cinematographer’s appreciation for the power of imagery, for the most part letting the boys tell their story. It is a harrowing tale of being plucked out of the fields of rural Pakistan, some as young as 5. Dubai is one of the central feeder cities on the boys’ way to training camps, where they learn to ride.

The races are a dangerous place for the boys. Some die, some come back disfigured. All come back with scars. As one says, there are always men hanging around the courses eager to buy their bodies too.

Like an increasing number of indies and documentaries unable to elbow their way into the theatrical crush, “Desert Riders” spent time on the festival circuit before finding its way to VOD and DVD, where you can just catch it now.


The beauty and ugliness of “Desert Riders” will haunt you. The boys and the world Sarin takes us into linger long after the final frame.