Sonia Kennebeck, who has made whistleblower documentaries her specialty, from “National Bird,” on drone whistleblowers including Daniel Hale, to “United States vs Reality Winner,” has a new film out today, “Enemies of the State,” on the story of Matt DeHart.
A New York Times Critics’ Pick, the film, produced by veteran documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, is a study in how to investigate the truth in a complex story of competing narratives. Kennebeck told Mother Jones,
“It’s a film about the truth, or how to seek the truth, in a world where we have so much contradicting information and secrets, and narratives that are spreading so quickly over the internet and over social media.”
“postmodern documentary in that it shows its own working, like the inside-out Pompidou Centre in Paris or Martin Amis putting a character called Martin Amis in his novel Money. We join Kennebeck in following the trail of crumbs and share her uncertainty about where it will lead.”
The New Republic reviews the film alongside Kennebeck’s “United States vs Reality Winner”: “Sonia Kennebeck’s Grim Documentaries About Whistleblowers Expose the Excesses of the National Security State”
While their stories differ in the particulars, Winner and DeHart belong to a growing club of whistleblowers, dissidents, political prisoners, hackers, information activists, former intelligence officers, and other distinctive characters who have come under the withering gaze of the national security state. Some have been prosecuted and jailed; all have suffered materially and personally. The very facts of their stories are sometimes subject to debate, but each story must be told, because each is an outrage, a civil libertarian nightmare that persists long after the camera goes dark.
The somber truth at the heart of Kennebeck’s films is not just that agencies like the FBI or NSA operate according to their own logic of secret governance; it’s that the problems they produce might be insoluble. As Matt DeHart’s father suggests, there is practically nowhere a person can go to protect himself from the United States—unless he has the bizarre misfortune, as Edward Snowden did, to end up stuck in the Moscow airport, passport canceled, while in flight from American authorities. There is no easy escape from the watchful gaze and political influence of a globe-straddling empire. But no matter how many times the U.S. government makes an example of people like Reality Winner, it’s clear that some insiders will only feel more emboldened to risk their safety to leak information in the public interest. Or as Snowden put it, simply and hopefully, “There will be others.”