National Bird: Drone Wars (Lies and Secrets Film Season)
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“…the personal cost of impersonal killing…”
Director Sonia Kennebuck and producers Wim Wenders and Errol Morris delve into the inner workings of the US military’s unmanned drone program in this sobering documentary. Chiefly told through the eyes of three whistle-blowers who talk freely about their experiences in the program and the effect it has had on them, the film also interweaves reenactments of drone strikes, reconstructed from the voice recordings of operators, plus footage of the innocent victims who are all too often mistaken for legitimate targets, as well as interviews with their surviving families.
What emerges is a portrait of a callous system that is low on accountability on high on tragedy, wreaking physical havoc in the countries where drones are deployed, while forcing the operators who man them to pay an incredible psychological price. There’s Heather, who was a suicide risk while in the program, and has written about the harrowing toll her experiences have taken for The Guardian; Lisa, who is racked with remorse over the absolute certainty that she has participated in the killing of civilians and now works with an aide organisation in Afghanistan; and Darrel, whose speaking out against the program has left him open to prosecution and heavy jail time under the US’s Espionage Act (the same law which has been brought to bear on Edward Snowden).
The terrible irony of the film is that the drone program’s raison d’etre – protecting American troops by effectively removing them from the theatre of battle – is shown to be a terrible lie, as we see the damage that the program has wrought on its participants, along with not only the military’s almost complete lack of after-service care, but their willingness to prosecute and persecute those who would shed light on the program’s workings. National Bird: Drone Wars puts a human face on modern warfare, contrasting the personal cost of impersonal killing.
National Bird: Drones Wars Screens at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s Lies and Secrets film season, which runs from October 14 – 25. For more info, go to the official site.