From Consortium News
In the new anti-drone film, National Bird, you meet courageous military drone resisters speaking out against America's forward-fighting drone program and the civilian killing and devastation it is causing all over the Middle East and North Africa.
National Bird "gives rare insight into the U.S. drone program through the eyes of veterans and survivors," says its director, Sonia Kennebeck, "connecting their stories as never before in a documentary. Its images haunt the audience and bring a faraway issue close to home."
You see these soldier technicians struggling to balance their secret lives as long distance assassins with their everyday lives as parents and spouses. Talk of suicide is rampant among these drone workers. And several have already taken their own lives.
Dennis Bernstein: Welcome Sonia Kennebeck. ... Why did you decide to do this film?
Sonia Kennebeck: Well, when I started out with my research, and that was in early 2013, there was really not much public information out there. And there were a lot of people commenting about the drone war, you know, pundits, experts, journalists. But we didn't have a lot of information and that's what I wanted to provide with the film.
I wanted to bring information out about the drone war, transparency, accountability. But, also, really bring the humanity back into this technological war. My film is really about the people, the people who... the veterans ... who had been fighting this war. But also the people in the target countries, who are most affected by the drones.
DB: Was [there a] moment in this process where you decided, "Wow, this is definitely the right film at the right time"? Talk a little bit about that process of discovery.
SK: Well, the more access I got to people, to the veterans who worked in the drone program, the more I realized how important this film was, and is. One of my first characters, or actually the first protagonist, who I found for my film was my subject Heather. In our very first talk, in our very first conversation (and she had just left the military), she told me that she lost three of her fellow airmen -- three of her friends -- to suicide. And that was something that I had not heard before. The people who worked in the drone war, or part of the drone program, would be so distressed by their experiences that they would commit suicide. So, this was really one of the first things... one of the first information that I heard about that.
DB: ... And are you sure ... that these suicides occurred in the context of the drone program? Were they talking with these soldiers who ended up committing suicide? How do they know it's that direct link?
SK: Well, Heather, one of the subjects of my film, she actually talks about how she herself was on a suicide watch list. And how her psychologist at that time recommended that she should do a different job. And [the psychologist] said something that did not involve seeing people die all the time. And she was kept in her job because they were undermanned. Heather was really good in her position. And so she actually had that experience herself. She had it and she's sharing it with us.
And so, let me just explain what she was doing. Heather was an imagery analyst, meaning that she was analyzing the live video feed coming from the drones. And she had to make a call, judging the video feed and saying, "What I see on this video is this person is either a terrorist or a civilian"... and that is a very responsible position. And ... a decision that could eventually lead to the killing of a group of people. And that experience, for her, was very traumatizing.
DB: And ... does Lisa [another subject of the film] or Heather know if they actually killed people? Do they have any idea what people they might have helped to murder?
SK: They all participated in killing people. The problem is that it's not exactly clear how many. And that's what all of the three whistleblowers, in my film, are criticizing. They rarely got any feedback. And also, when you drop a bomb... and these military drones, they are large enough to carry 300 - 500 pound bombs.
And so, when you drop a bomb on a building, do you really know who's inside? And that's one of the things they are all criticizing about the program, that it's not exactly clear who is being killed, and how many people are being killed.