Magazine article Screen International

Wim Wenders, Sonia Kennebeck Talk Drone Doc 'National Bird'

Magazine article Screen International

Wim Wenders, Sonia Kennebeck Talk Drone Doc 'National Bird'

Article excerpt

The film follows the journey of three whistleblowers determined to break the silence around US drone strikes.

Despite being executive produced by Errol Morris and Wim Wenders, documentary filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck's (Sex: Made In Germany) second feature has flown under the radar; intentionally so.

"All funders were aware of the sensitive nature of this film and didn't publicize it for the three years of production," explains Kennebeck about the US feature.

"The US administration has this cloud of secrecy around the drone program," says the director. "I wanted to understand more about the drone war from first-hand sources and I hope that my film will start a discussion about the question of whether drone warfare is ever jusitifed. They do not disclose how and why they target people, they do not publish the number of people killed."

"I avoided narration on purpose," adds the US-based German filmmaker. "I want to give the audience room to form their own opinion. "There is too much commentary on this issue."

Research was painstaking. "I found a 2,000-page declassified report by the US military on one of their airstrikes on civilians in Afghanistan," said Kennebeck.

"The report was ordered by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and it concluded, through extensive transcripts and interviews, that a Predator drone crew was largely responsible for the attack.

"I found the survivors of the airstrike and was the first person to interview them and get their first-person accounts," she continues. "Their stories give a much larger dimension to the incident and reveal that parts of the military investigation had been sugarcoated.

Access to official documents was inevitably difficult. "Government authorities make it very difficult to access classified information by threatening current and former government employees with prosecution under the Espionage Act, which can be equated to treason. It's a very intimidating threat that has a chilling effect on freedom speech and freedom of the press. People are afraid to speak about it.

"In terms of official access to classified information: I have done my own Freedom of Information Act requests, but so far they have been rejected. …

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