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Impact of drone warfare examined in ‘National Bird’

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Director Sonia Kennebeck discusses her new Film ‘National Bird’ which examines the impact of drone warfare.

Lisa, a former technical sergeant who worked for a U.S. government data gathering system, thought the way the information was being used for Military Drone Strikes put her “on the right side of history”. Now, in the documentary “National Bird” being shown out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival, Lisa and two other “whistleblowers” who were involved in the drone programme, have gone on record about what they see as its dangers. Lisa thinks ultimately it poses a threat not only to civilians killed accidentally in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but to Americans back home. The documentary, co-produced with Errol Morris and Wim Wenders, gives a strong hint of what Lisa thinks that threat is by showing drone’s eye views of Afghanistan — and similar aerial shots of neighbourhoods in the United States. Kennebeck, whose previous films include a documentary on the effects of legalising prostitution in Germany, said the film had been a difficult one to make, given the secrecy of the government programme, and the problems that other whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have encountered. The home of one of her subjects, Daniel, a former government intelligence analyst, was raided by the FBI while the film was being made. He continued to participate in the film, but by the end of filming had dropped out of view. Heather, a former imagery analyst, is so distraught about what she has seen while dealing with military drone strikes that her main goal is to get a diagnosis from the U.S. Veterans’ Administration that will allow her to be treated for post-traumatic stress syndrome. The film says her obtaining that diagnosis — due to what she’d seen of faraway combat rather than fighting on the ground — represented a breakthrough. Kennebeck also traveled with Lisa to Afghanistan to meet with victims of an infamous strike involving drone surveillance in 2010 in which 23 civilians, including women and children, were killed. The then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, apologised for the attack. Kennebeck said the survivors travelled for three days to meet her and her crew. Kennebeck hopes her film will be a wake-up call to the world about the growth of drone warfare. When it comes to her own views she is scrupulous about not wanting to get into a pro-drone, anti-drone debate, saying her film leaves it for the audience to decide:

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