Published Apr 29, 2015Drone captures the uncomfortable realities that accompany the use of "targeted assassinations," which have increased significantly as the Obama administration pursues militants in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan. The Canadian premiere of the documentary comes weeks after an American and an Italian hostage were accidentally killed by an American drone strike in Pakistan. The film joins a growing chorus of journalists and activists concerned by the unfettered, unchecked and unaccountable actions of the United States.
In her third feature-length documentary, Norwegian director Tonje Hessen Schei powerfully weaves the testimonies of civilians affected by strikes in Waziristan, Pakistan with the mea culpas of former US drone operators. Their wariness towards this new technology is framed against hawkish cheerleaders. The result: a messy grey area of moral ambiguity.
Importantly, the film teases out and critiques the fetish for clean, emotionless language when reporting on drone strikes, and more broadly, modern warfare. "Surgical strikes" is a particularly dubious culprit, as politicians and military commanders attempt to untangle themselves from the realities that these strikes are more chainsaw than scalpel. Civilians make up a large number of casualties because operators can't see the faces of their targets; it is often guilt by geographic association.
Which raises yet another question: Is the standard of innocence until proven guilt a universal norm? In the eyes of their critics, drones and their operators have become judge, jury and executioner. It also probes questions of national sovereignty: How can the U.S., which is not at war with Pakistan or Yemen, continually launch airstrikes into these countries?
There are many unsettling moments throughout the film that power the narrative along: a room full of video game-entranced youth is coyly suggested as the next wave of recruits for drone wars; an operator in a dark room in Nevada quickly turns weddings in rural Pakistan to funerals; the revelation that shaky youth, drawn in into this borderless war, no longer go outside on clear sunny days, when drones are most active.
Originally trumpeted as the machines that would wage cold, calculating battles in the future, Drones paints the titular weapons as purely contemporary. The film ought to be a required watch to grasp the scope and consequence of war from the sky. (Flimmer Film)