“Drone” opens with nothing but the sounds of people screaming, “Oh my God.” A simple jump cut and the viewer hovers above Ground Zero. After setting the tone, the film's question is voiced: is it worth it for us to use drone technology for war?
This is how Director Tonje Hessen Schei opens “Drone,” her first film at True/False. The film explores the human cost of advanced warfare in the documentary, and it’s named for the the unmanned, remotely-controlled aircrafts used by the U.S. military against terrorists in the Middle East.
The film compiles footage from interviews with ex-drone operators, human rights lawyers, journalists, families of drone victims, manufacturers and political leaders, along with news excerpts and drone camera footage, and uses it all to tell a compelling story, aided by an evocative soundtrack by Olav Øyehaug.
Schei does a good job entwining the players’ stories into the larger history of drone warfare. It was easy to empathize with a young man, a drone strike survivor from Waziristan where, according to the film, most of the drone strikes have been focused. If the injured Pakistani children aren't enough, one could derive some sympathy from the ex-drone operators' stories.
"We are the ultimate voyeurs," one said as he recalled the experience working for the U.S. Air Force.
It was even easy to empathize with the inventor of the unmanned aircraft, who has been making money from his invention since the (W.) Bush era.
"Drone" is the answer to "American Sniper." It shows the inglorious side of warfare, including PTSD, from which many of the controllers suffered after hitting the trigger so many times. The insurgent targets were not the only victims of the HELLFIRE missiles deployed from the unmanned drones. Many civilians have suffered, as well. Schei drives that point home with infographics and interviews from both sides of the missile.
The film weighs the ideals of drone warfare against its costs –– both human and budgetary, and leads the viewer to question the American way. Yet, given the facts and dramatic presentation, it is hard not to lean a certain way. Perhaps calling to our humanity was the only thing this film was trying to achieve, for it leaves many open-ended questions at the end, forcing the viewer to choose if they are grateful or disgusted.
MOVE gives “Drone” five out of five stars.