The President Versus David Hicks

(Curtis Levy & Bentley Dean, Australia, 2004)


This documentary by Curtis Levy and Bentley Dean takes an essentially personal angle on the fascinating case of Australian David Hicks, detained in Guantanamo Bay after being arrested by American forces in Afghanistan as a member of the Taliban.

The focus is on Hicks' family, especially his father Terry and stepmother Bev. They are presented as ordinary battling Australians bewildered by the worldly misadventures of David and his obscure ideological motivations.

David's letters – a mixture of homely familiarities and passionate declarations of his newly adopted lifestyle – take up much of the soundtrack.

The filmmakers' visit to Guantanamo delivers sadly predictable glimpses of military authorities parroting the American official line about "enemy combatants" and their complete lack of rights. More momentous for the documentary is Terry's decision to visit Pakistan and Afghanistan – his first journey beyond Australia – to explore and understand the traces of his son's evolution.

Despite well-timed blasts of news footage of a belligerent Bush declaring his merciless anti-terrorist stand, The President Versus David Hicks is not an especially probing film on the political level. We hear from lawyers and other experts about the tactics of "stress and duress" that Hicks suffers, but never really come to understand anything more about the reasons behind the Australian government's adamant refusal to intervene.

This is a modest, conventionally constructed work, better suited to television than cinema. Its main function is to provide fuel for the ongoing cause of support for Hicks, and on this level it is highly effective.

© Adrian Martin August 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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