When he was 27 years old, Matthew VanDyke left home and a sheltered, quiet life in Baltimore – where all cooking and washing was done by his mum – looking for adventure and what he called a "crash course in manhood".
Matthew VanDyke in Gibraltar in 2007.
Equipped with a motorbike and a video camera, he rode 56,000 kilometres across the Middle East, embedding with US forces in Iraq and getting into increasingly strange, adrenaline-fuelled situations in places such as Libya and Afghanistan.
Matthew VanDyke in Egypt and embedded in Iraq.
In 2011, he returned to North Africa, at the behest of friends he had made there, to fight against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan civil war as a foreign fighter.
He was captured by Gaddafi's forces and spent nearly six months as a prisoner of war before escaping from Abu Salim prison and returning to combat until the end of the war.
VanDyke is the subject of the Marshall Curry documentary, Point and Shoot, about his experiences in Libya, which is screening at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Curry is a two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker. The documentary explores – through footage Matthew shot himself – the story of his transformation, as well as the controversial nature of what he did in Libya, and why he thinks his contribution to the anti-Gaddafi effort was justified.
He has since spent time in Syria, to document the conflict and advise rebel fighters there, and has produced the short film Not Anymore: The Story of a Revolution. He has asked for it to be shared freely.
Matthew VanDyke received his master's degree in Security Studies from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.