Saturday, April 25, 2015

HotDocs 2015 Film Review - Drone

Starting with a shot of Ground zero in New York followed by a tough taking speech from U.S President Obama Drone takes a detailed look at the growing use of Drone technology to fight wars. The film focuses on the personnel that man them and the people in the targeting zone who's new normal is having these weapons overhead everyday.

Waziristan, Pakistan is the favourite hunting ground for the U.S. Drone program.  The U.S. position is that terrorist seek easy refuge in the territory therefore to protect America they must go there into the to eliminate high value targets. Rules of engagement are any military aged male especially if they are carrying a firearm. The Americans also profess that if the target is amongst his family or at a family event or wedding they still can give the green light to launch the drones payload. The planes are so prevalent in the Waziristan sky that children beg for cloudy days so they can play outside without their tell tale buzzing sound overhead.

Writer Director Tonje Hessen Schei features two former drone pilots who give their first hand accounts of the job. The pilots are members of the U.S. Air force but get their orders from the C.I.A. making it murky to determine who is really in control of the program.  The pilots sit in an unassuming room in Nevada looking at video screens showing their targeting area. They have a joystick to toggle the drone's camera equipped with the familiar targeting. The unit discusses the target on screen if good a decision is made to fire that's verified by the ranking officer then the hellfire missile is fired obliterating the target on the ground. Former pilot Brandon Bryant gives detailed accounts of strikes, the jubilant response from his colleagues that counter his own feelings that he had just ended a human life that may or not have been a real threat to his country.

Three voices fighting for the end of the strikes in Waziristan are human Rights Lawyer Shahzad Akbar , Clive Stafford Smith activist and founder of Reprieve and Waziristan investigative photographer Noor Behram. Akbar brought a case on behalf of drone victim's families against the CIA station chiefs. Stafford Smith organized a caravan into Waziristan of western media to show the world the situation on the ground in the region. Smith also worked with Noor Behram to blow up his photos of children orphaned or abandoned in the strike zone to place on the roofs of the houses in the area to counteract the detachment of the drone pilots sitting in their box in Nevada. Director Shei presents a montage major twentieth century wars to demonstrate how detachment has increased. Hand-to-hand trench warfare of WWI, air bombings of WWII, missile strikes from the First Gulf War now drone technology.  The production points out that as distance between opposing forces increases the military casualty decrease and the civilian ones increase.

Drone is a comprehensive look into the secretive introduction of this new technology into warfare. The presentation looks at recruitment from teenage gamers and the military role in video game production to life on the ground in the main targeting area of Waziristan, Pakistan and the attempts to strike back at the Superpower by detractors of a program that does not have to answer to elected officials as they are not operating in a zone where war has been declared.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Drone | Tonje Hessen Schei | Norway / Pakistan / U.S.A | 2015 | 58 Minutes.

Tags: War on Terror, Air Force, Drone Pilots, Area 51, C.I.A., Activists, Waziristan, Pakistan, Hellfire missiles,

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