The President Versus David Hicks

Standard

Review by Jane Freebury

Since this remarkable documentary on David Hicks was completed, the young Adelaide man who needs no introduction has finally met with his father Terry, and the military tribunal process by which he will be tried has begun. So how did a South Australian stockman end up in Cap X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay?

The President Versus David Hicks attempts to answer this question with its account of the journey made by Terry Hicks, retracing David’s steps through Pakistan and Afghanistan and his conversion to the radical Islamist cause. Clearly, people who are close to David, his father, stepmother Bev and his lawyer, are determined to provide support as best they can, whatever he has done, and Terry says that all he asks for is due legal process. He and the filmmakers Curtis Levy and Bentley Dean, and the locals who assisted them along the way, took considerable risks – we’ll never know how dangerous.

David’s physical absence is compensated for to some extent by the text of David’s letters, frequently heard in voiceover, as the dignity and forbearance of Terry Hicks, a stock figure topped with a baseball cap, fills centreframe. But what about Terry? Much remains opaque.

Why did David Hicks re-invent himself and join the Taliban? Neither the grand barren vistas of Afghanistan, nor the madrassas or fellow detainees offer up any explanation. David’s letters suggest that something important took place in Kosovo, which he elides with a significant ‘don’t ask’.

In one of his letters David says there were two things his dad prefers to avoid: religion and politics. It’s a gentle rebuke, but it comes, ironically, with the announcement that David has suddenly acquired a whole new world view that would be inexplicable to anyone back home, least of all his uncomplicated dad. What do we make of that?

The crimes of international terrorists are once again monstrous this last week, but it’s not possible to feel comfortable about the process when claims are made that the US has sacrificed the rule of law in Guantanamo. Director Curtis Levy has built a distinguished reputation as a documentary filmmaker with films like Riding the Tiger and High Noon in Jakarta, and now has made another important film for our time.

In a capsule: A disturbing film for our time, though David Hicks, his life and his cause remain a mystery.

4 stars