A riveting documentary about an American hacktivist who claimed his government framed him for child pornography
Dir: Sonia Kennebeck. US. 2020. 104 mins
The truth is riddled with contradictions in Enemies Of The State. Sonia Kennebeck’s riveting documentary rigorously considers the case of Matt DeHart, a former Air National Guard member and hacktivist who claimed to be the victim of a vengeful American government determined to silence him. Expert testimony, hard evidence and dramatised reconstructions are woven into a narrative that confirms the prejudices of eager conspiracy theorists whilst sowing doubt in the minds of those who take nothing at face value.
Carefully, meticulously builds a case and then blindsides the viewer
Kennebeck’s compelling, thought-provoking second feature should be warmly welcomed and debated by audiences across the festival circuit and beyond.
Enemies Of The State begins with a quote from Oscar Wilde that “truth is rarely pure and never simple”. The film then proceeds on a rollercoaster journey through the Matt DeHart case, depicting it in a manner that is reminscent of both an Oliver Stone thriller and Orson Welles’ slippery F For Fake. Kennebeck’s determination to doggedly follow the evidence also calls to mind The Thin Blue Line (1988) from Errol Morris, who is an executive producer on her film.
Kennebeck maintains a firm grip on a complex tale with a cast of characters ample enough to populate the pages of a Dickens novel. Even as it folds in on itself, the timeline remains crystal clear. And the actors cast to play DeHart and his family in the dramatic reconstructions are spot-on.
The director builds a good deal of the film around interviews with DeHart’s mother Leann and father Paul. Both military veterans, they declare themselves part of a generation who obeyed the rules. Their son Matt was a hacker, involved with Anonymous and allegedly linked to WikiLeaks. He may have inadvertently received information that would have given him the means to join the likes of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning as a significant whistleblower.
In January 2010, the family home was raided, computers were removed and DeHart faced charges of possessing child pornography. He vigorously denied the charges and insisted this was a distraction, orchestrated by the FBI to intimidate and silence him. DeHart was supported throughout by his protective parents, and in 2013 the entire family fled to Canada and sought political asylum.
Kennebeck scrupulously presents information and allows all sides to be heard. Leann and Paul are outraged that such persecution could happen in the country they have served and loved. They are so angry and emotional that it is easy to take them to heart. Meanwhile, Assistant US Attorney Carrie Daughtrey seems like the implacable face of state authority as she asserts that DeHart is simply a sexual predator who should face the full force of the law.
A succession of interviews with lawyers, academics, family friends and a sympathetic journalist create a wide-ranging portrait of how the DeHart case developed and was reported. Immigration hearings in Canada use the original audio recordings. DeHart’s claims that he was drugged and tortured by the FBI whilst in custody are depicted with all the blurry, nightmare visuals of a Jason Bourne flashback.
Layer after layer of comment and supposition make us believe in what happened to DeHart, but Kennebeck never lets such a good story stand in the way of getting to a truth that is stranger than fiction. This is a documentary that carefully, meticulously builds a case and then blindsides the viewer with revelations, second thoughts and fresh evidence that makes you reconsider everything you thought was certain.
Production company: Codebreaker Films
International sales: Submarine Entertainment, email@example.com
Producers: Ines Hofmann Kanna, Sonia Kennebeck
Editing: Maxine Goedicke
Cinematography: Torsten Lapp
Music: Insa Rudolph
Main cast: Joel Widman, Chris Clark, James Donahower, Suzanne Pratley