GFF2021 review: Enemies of the State

Year: 2020
Duration: 1h 44m
Director: Sonia Kennebeck

By Caz Armstrong

If you love true crime podcasts and trying to unravel the facts to uncover the truth this documentary is for you. It follows the case of Matt DeHart and his parents who were raided by the FBI in 2010. Is Matt a victim of government harassment and false charges or a serious threat? The strange details of Matt’s case and his fight with the US government are examined from various angles in search of the truth.

Even as a school boy Matt was a strange and eccentric character. But as he got older he became involved in Anonymous, Wikileaks and hacktivism, developing an even more mysterious character. The information he came across brought him onto the US Government’s radar and he began to feel unsafe. The home he shared with his parents Paul and Leann was raided in early 2010 by officers looking for evidence of child pornography.

Claiming this was a fabricated charge, Matt, and at times his parents too, fled the country in pursuit of asylum in Canada. They claim the FBI wanted to pin fake charges on him because they saw his pursuit of justice through hactivism as espionage. Others claim the evidence of child abuse is compelling.

As the documentary unravels we’re shown fresh evidence, confusing narratives and proof that there are two sides to every story. 

“Enemies of the State”

Kennebeck keeps viewers in a state of constant suspicion throughout the narrative, and in doing so weaves a compelling and intriguing tale. This is not a simple retelling of facts, this is a documentary that will make viewers work. Who you believe is up to you.

The actions described are fairly convoluted as the family cross borders back and forth between the US, Mexico and Canada. The resulting timeline is admittedly somewhat confusing which may add to audiences’ enjoyment of the mystery but it could cause frustration.

Information will be presented in one light and then instantly put under question by a simple retelling of it using a different tone of voice or turn of phrase. This is a very neat way of showing that the information we receive will be steeped in the opinions of the person giving it to you.

“I didn’t quite realise at that point how bizarre, how twisting and turning and complicated the story would really be”

Adrian Humphreys, investigative reporter

The way Kennebeck presents the information is compelling not only in the juxtaposition of two people’s understanding of the same events. She brings events to life with piece-to-camera interviews as well as excerpts from reports and reconstructions.

As the film progresses, Matt’s father Paul becomes increasingly animated with righteous indignation on behalf of his son. But is Paul himself all that he seems? Is this a case of paranoia or persecution?

The most interesting reconstruction technique uses court audio recordings from the family’s refugee hearings in Canada alongside lip-syncing actors. This is an imaginative and very effective way to bring the scene to life. It means we can interrogate the actor’s facial expressions and body language as well as hearing their words.

The real truth may never be known, there are so many ways to interpret the motives of all sides. But by presenting both sides with equal weight, and revealing new evidence at just the right points we have to make our own conclusions.

This documentary will have audiences examining, accusing and inventing their own theories. Was Matt under the control of someone else? Was the whole family deluded? If someone were to be persecuted by the US government for being an alleged enemy of the state would you even believe their protests? While some may struggle to connect all the pieces together in a meaningful way, if you like a mystery, a thriller, or a true crime caper Sonia Kennebeck’s intriguing documentary is for you.

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