We live in a world where, due to the influence of social media and the internet, it has become harder and harder to determine fact from fiction. Oscar Wilde once commented that: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple,” and that feels all the more accurate now. These words also serve as both a fitting opening and motif throughout Sonia Kennebeck’s gripping documentary Enemies of the State which, amidst its genuinely fascinating story, constantly encourages the audience to question everything.
In 2010, the home of hacktivist, and former intel specialist of the United States Air National Guard, Matt DeHart was raided by the FBI and computers removed under claims of possession of child pornography. Claims which DeHart refuted; arguing that they were fabricated in order to silence him over files he possessed that were uploaded to the deep-web server he operated as part of Anonymous and WikiLeaks. DeHart and his parents would eventually flee to Canada in 2013 where they sought political asylum, however that was far from the end of their ordeal.
Consisting of both in-person interviews and dramatic reconstructions utilising transcripts and audio from court hearings, and unfolding in a non-linear fashion, Enemies of the State is a tense spy-thriller through and through. While it can be somewhat difficult to follow at times, and the lip-syncing in the reconstructions leaves much to be desired, the film is never dull. In fact, these elements come together excellently, allowing Kennebeck to weave a web of fraught intrigue that makes the viewer almost as paranoid as those it is depicting.
Enemies of the State contains as many twists and turns as anything that could be created by masterful writers of espionage fiction like John LeCarré; the fact that this is a true-story makes it all the more disturbing.
It is ultimately a film about truth, and Kennebeck holds off on making any outright judgements at any point. It is up to the subjects to state their cases, and she allows figures such as the cyber crimes detective who investigated DeHart the option to put forward their arguments as much as DeHart’s family and their lawyers.
There are a lot of parts here, but they come together well bringing more and more questions to light as it progresses. Do DeHart’s parents really believe in the conspiracy against them, or are they simply helicopter parents who would go to any lengths to protect their son from child abuse allegations? If these allegations were true, why was there a seemingly greater focus on leaked documents in the initial trial?
Enemies of the State actively encourages the audience to make their own judgements and challenge their preconceptions as more information is unearthed. As Professor Gabriella Coleman reflects in the film’s closing moments: “If we want to live in a world where we can trust the truth, it means having to reevaluate evidence as new things come up. And maybe change your mind.”
Screening as part of Glasgow Film Festival from Sun 28 Feb 2021