"An unsettling primer on a new type of warfare that is being developed much more quickly than the legal restrictions to control it." | Photo: Copyright @ Flimmer Film 2014

Hot on the heels of fictional drone warfare film Good Kill comes this chilling documentary from Tonje Hessen Schei. Expanding outwards from Twin Towers terror attacks on 9/11, her film shows how the rules of the war game have changed. Why send all those expensive troops to foreign countries and have them come back in boxes, when you can put them in a box with a joystick and send a drone? "It's cheap," says one contributor - but this film, which does take a stridently polemical stance that slightly weakens its argument, asks what price the lives on the ground?

"It was just point and click", says Brandon Bryant, a former drone operator who now campaigns heavily against the technique. The question is, point and click at what? Terrorists? Their families? Kids who just happen to be playing in the wrong place? Schei focuses in on operations in the Waziristan region of Pakistan - a country with which, the film notes, the US isn't even officially at war. The director adopts a pincer movement for her argument, approaching the issue from the perspectives of those on the ground and those back in America who are trained to pull the trigger.

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In Waziristan moves are afoot to bring lawsuits against the US Government, as the populace try to document the deaths of innocents and campaigners put huge posters of children who have been killed on the roofs of houses in a bid to make drone operators think twice. Back in the US, it's easy to see how damaged Bryant has been left by his stint of killing. But then when you consider his strikes have left 1,626 people dead - exponentially more than, for example, the 150 or so shot dead by the US's 'deadliest sniper' Chris Kyle - it's no wonder he is haunted in the aftermath.

The film is at its most disturbing when it considers the recruitment process for drone operators in the first place - the deeply worrying term "militainment" is used for computer games, many funded by weapons manufacturers, that are used to see whether young men have the skills to kill. "Young men like to smash things," says one drone manufacturer, prompting questions about the sort of people being recruited.

The film's weak spot is the amount of ground being covered - from the shadowy control structure that leads not to the Army but the CIA, to the human rights fieldwork in Pakistan. Hugely important issues are raised by Schei but there are so many of them that some are under-explored - the film would pack much punch if she had honed in on two or three key issues or expanded it a little from the trim 78 minute runtime (a 58 minute version cut also exists). Nevertheless, Drone is an unsettling primer on a new type of warfare that is being developed much more quickly than the legal restrictions to control it and is likely to inspire viewers to want to find out more before the technique proliferates past the point of no return.

Reviewed on: 28 May 2015
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Documentary about the CIA's covert drone war in Pakistan.

Director: Tonje Hessen Schei

Writer: Tonje Hessen Shei

Starring: Shahzad Akbar, Noor Behram, Brandon Bryant, Michael Haas, Clive Stafford Smith, Chris Woods

Year: 2014

Runtime: 78 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Norway, US, Pakistan


Doc/Fest 2015

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