For our final film at Toronto International Film Festival 2020, we decided to check out the world premiere of Sonia Kennebeck‘s documentary, ‘Enemies of the State‘. TIFF20 has had a couple of standout documentaries this year, such as Inconvenient Indian, which felt urgent and should be mandatory viewing. Kennebeck’s film however, watches like a film-version of Netflix’s ‘Tiger King‘, meaning it’s a wild ride from start to finish. The subject seems like something that’s made up by some overexcited conspiracy-theorist, but the evidence provided doesn’t leave much to your imagination. It tells the the real-life story of an American family seeking refuge in Canada after their hacker son is targeted by the US government. And just like that, the film starts with an Oscar Wilde quote: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.“
‘Enemies of the State‘ is a gripping spy story that should be seen to be believed. Back in 2010, the FBI raided the home of the then 25-year-old Matt DeHart, who used to work for the US Army, just like his parents, with whom he still lives. These government officials were holding a search warrant for child pornography. The DeHart-family denied the charges, and knew these government officials were there to investigate Matt’s involvement with Anonymous and that organization’s links to Wikileaks. After the hacktivist spend 21 months in prison, Matt and his parents crossed the border into Canada, seeking asylum based on the convention against torture.
Kennebeck puts together a report, combining archival footage and photography the DeHart-family made themselves, interviews with government officials (not the FBI, because they refused to comment on the matter), reenacted scenes while using original audio from hearings and trials, and the expertise from professors and refugee lawyers. ‘Enemies of the State‘ is filled with facts and it sometimes feels like as if this should’ve been made into a series, instead of a 100-minute documentary.
That’s also when I realized that the film has too much information and jumps from one scene to another one too many times, while going forward and backwards on the timeline, making it at a certain point a tad bit confusing. Kennebeck’s choice to incorporate cheesy reenactments, starring Leann and Paul DeHart themselves, was a poor choice, as it cheapened the film for me. Nonetheless, this is a story that I personally didn’t know much about and intrigued me from the very first minute. Insa Rudolph‘s compelling score fit the film perfectly, and while the blue-grey-filter feels quite gimmicky, it didn’t distract me from what’s actually happening on screen.
The journalistic investigation style of reporting is a smart choice on Kennebeck’s behalf, who also often hints at former whistleblowers who’ve made the news, such as Edward Snowden, who’s also an enemy of the state, and who’s story has already been turned into a documentary and feature film. The director doesn’t just dig deeper into Matt’s past, but also tries to figure out who his parents were and their possible involvement in this entire investigation. Luckily, they were very cooperative in the making of this film.
Enemies of the State is a riveting, engrossing and thought-provoking documentary, that leaves you second-guessing for most of its runtime. As entertaining as your favourite Netflix-docu-series, but not as time-consuming, the film exposes the truth behind dodgy malpractices, making a John Grisham-novel look like a fairy tale.
TIFF20 Review – ‘Enemies of the State’
Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 19, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 103 min.
PRODUCTION: A Codebreaker Films production. Producer: Ines Hofmann Kanna. Executive producer: Errol Morris.
CREW: Director: Sonia Kennebeck. Editing: Maxine Goedicke. Cinematography: Torsten Lapp. Score: Insa Rudolph.