War is hell. We all know this statement from William T. Sherman, and it has become almost a clichéd line of dialogue when describing conflict. However, there are alternating definitions of what hell entails. Most would say that truly hellacious war is bullets flying, blood splattering and bodies piling high, which would be an accurate diagnosis in many ways but in others less so. As the world changes, so too do the occurrences within it. In the past, wars have of course been debated but now more than ever the conspiracies and controversies surrounding war have almost become as huge as the conflict itself (the success of Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11 on its release denotes). One such issue in modern day warfare is the usage of drones, as a means of surveillance and more importantly as an armed weapon. And that is where this documentary (if you will pardon the unintended pun) sets its sights.
Focusing on the issue both in the West and in Pakistan, this film by Tonje Hessen Schei looks to highlight the worrying direction that affairs in modern warfare are taking, and to this end the film is very successful. Though the film’s TV documentary format (it has been shown on television too) does rear it’s head throughout and occasionally leaves some arguments lightly covered, Drone is a documentary that raises the profile of this issue. Schei’s film focuses on the activist and legal activities in Pakistani regions (particularly Waziristan) and juxtaposes that with a former drone pilot’s (Brandon Bryant) disillusion at how his country has taken this mode of military equipment and created a worrying state of affairs built around self empowerment and secrecy. Now obviously this film is not entirely unbiased, leaning to the negatives behind the programme but the fact these urgings are backed by testimony of innocent lives lost among many other pieces of material, confirms (to even the most avid supporters) that there is a compelling set of issues to be addressed.
The linking of video gaming culture to modern day military recruitment some may read as treading close to conspiracy, but it makes a very astute point and adds an alarming angle to a film full of some informed talking heads (many former military) highlighting this topical and explosive (in all senses of the word) issue. True, due to it’s short running time, Drone more introduces the issue to the audience, making strong statements that those interested in can follow up on but the film is very interesting and very passionately assembled. Never is this more the case, than when it is discusses the psychology behind the drone programme: distance (literally) = distance (morally) or does it? This psychological angle and discussion permeates throughout the film and the concluding link to old sci-fi ideals of a governed state may sound like moral panic but it is scarily true in many ways. Especially considering the modern day trust the masses have in authority figures.
This is a film that takes a stimulating look at the effect on people. Those innocent victims of this dangerously advanced technology and perhaps even more surprisingly those operating the drones - suggesting many are suffering in silence under fears of being labelled traitorous. Personal politics will come into play when watching this film, but whatever your belief, there is a suggestion here that this issue will continue to grow. Drone may seem to lack the gut-ripping impact it could have had (had it run longer and deeper) but as it progresses the film still gathers urgency and is a very promising start into widely debating both sides of this issue. Although in the end, we wonder if anything will change when money is involved… as the film points out. And for all the talking heads, eyewitnesses and figures, in many ways this is the strongest thing to take away from Drone. This film makes statements - some familiar, some startling - but the endgame is the same as many other films, how far will this booming industry go and how long will it be before profits, technology and destruction not only affects those in the crosshairs but those with their fingers on the button and those who live without the knowledge of what their elected officials are doing? Drone is sadly quite brief but all the same an interesting, alarming and fascinating documentary feature that asks many bold questions about an issue that is unfortunately likely to worsen before answers arrive.
Special Features: None
INFO: DRONE/ CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & WRITER: TONJE HESSEN SCHEI / STARRING: SHAHZAD AKBAR, NOOR BEHRAM, BRANDON BRYANT, MICHAEL HAAS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW