In Theaters: Nov 11 (NYC) and Nov 18 (LA) with more cities to follow
National Bird, a new documentary film, begins screening in Los Angeles and New York City this Friday– Veteran’s Day. It tells the story of three IVAW members who were immersed in different parts of the drone program along with the stories of some of the Afghan families affected forever by drone strikes. Put simply it’s powerful and we hope you will take the opportunity to see it. National Bird will open nationally soon.
From the Director’s Statement on the film:
It was Ramadan and we were still six hours away from sunset when we could have our first sip of water. That day, it was over one hundred degrees and no one except a little boy in front of me had anything to drink. But in this very moment, thirst didn’t cross my mind. My thoughts and my vision had honed in on the two people in front of me: a father and his son, both dressed in light blue traditional Afghan garb. With a calm voice the man quietly recounted the most disturbing experience of his life. His son, not a year over ten, was cuddled up close, tenderly holding his father’s hand.
Over the three days we filmed the family, the boy was never more than a few steps away from his beloved father. The Taliban had attacked the Afghan parliament with a car bomb, only blocks away from us. Maybe he was still feeling the impact from the loud blast that shook all of us up the previous day. But something tugged at me, suggesting otherwise.
We were sitting in a shady waiting room with turquoise walls at a hospital in Kabul, where this man shared with me that he was studying to become a doctor when a bomb from a U.S. airstrike tore off his leg and shattered his dreams. I didn’t understand his soft-spoken Dari, but two years into my research on drones, his story was all too familiar.
Military leaders have long aspired to wage war through unmanned weapons systems that kill enemies without putting their own troops in harm’s way. Over a decade ago, this vision turned into reality, but much of it was skillfully hidden from the public. As an investigative journalist, I am drawn to secrets. So when I started this project in 2013, I was curious to understand more about the U.S. drone program that had grown so exponentially under the Obama administration and by many accounts had become the President’s weapon of choice in the global war on terror. As a firm believer in the First Amendment and government transparency, I struggled with the secrecy and lack of public discourse around such an extensive killing program.
National Bird is an investigative political documentary that explores the complex issue of drone warfare from a human perspective. Through this film, I hope to enliven the public debate not just by enriching the existing discourse with a balanced portrait of the U.S. drone program, but more importantly by illuminating the impact this program has on the people – veterans and survivors – the human side of this war. Like previous advancements in military technology, combat drones have transformed warfare, outpacing the ability of legal and moral frameworks to adapt and address these developments. A broad, immersive, and thoroughly public discourse is critical to understanding the social cost of drone warfare.
From the day I met my first source in rural Pennsylvania to that moment in Kabul where I sat on a wooden bench opposite a maimed man and his son, this project has grown far beyond my expectations. The protagonists have given me intimate access to their stories and lives to educate the public about a weapons program with global implications. I greatly respect their courage and thoughtfulness, but most of all their humanity.
“If only this compelling documentary were science fiction…”
“Sonia Kennebeck’s terrifying documentary demonstrates the ease with which it is decided that a life should come to an end in American military strategy.”
“Chilling exposé… haunting, rather beautiful sequences…”
“Less concerned with stats or figures than with revealing the faces behind the action, Kennebeck follows three people who took part in the USAF’s unmanned aerial vehicle program…”
“Chilling testimony… should cast an impressive shadow…”
An “alarm-sounding topic doc” that asks, “If the U.S. can justify the use of drones in Afghanistan, the film implies, on what authority can we forbid other countries from doing the same to us?”
Cineaste Magazine – Detatched Retina: The New Cinema of Drone Warfare
“National Bird’s sequences in Afghanistan offer a more profound, affecting, and sustained reckoning with what drones do than anything else to date.”
Senses of Cinema – An interview with documentary director Sonia Kennebeck
“I really wanted to speak to the people directly impacted by drone warfare. I didn’t want to speak to journalists, experts, pundits. I wanted to speak to the people who are part of the program.”
Filmmaker Magazine – 25 New Faces of Film
“An important addition to a developing cinematic canon dealing with our post-9/11 security state, Sonia Kennebeck’s debut documentary, National Bird, is an artful, investigative look at the myriad impacts of America’s use of drone warfare. … What makes National Bird a remarkable first feature, aside from its riveting primary source interviews, is the way it embraces expressive cinematic technique.”
Forces TV – New Film Explores The Darker Side of Drone Warfare
“A documentary film reveals the darker side of US drone warfare in, National Bird”
Al Jazeera – Drone Warfare New Film Examines Lasting Impacts
“A new documentary hears from whistle-blowers from within the air force about the heavy price they pay for piloting the drones and running the drone program. ‘We wanted to bring transparency into this very secret program because I think the public doesn’t know enough about it.’”
Dateline NBC – The Drone Revolution: Richard Engel Reports
“National Bird characters Lisa Ling and Jesselyn Radack interviewed by Richard Engel”
We Got This Covered – National Bird [Tribeca 2016]
“With stealth and elegance, Kennebeck brings these alarming truths into the light.”
Real Screen – FilmRise soars with National Bird
“New York-based distributor FilmRise has acquired the North American distribution rights to Sonia Kennebeck‘s drone warfare documentary National Bird”
NPR – Documentary of the Week
“It feels almost like a sequel to Citizenfour…”
The Guardian – National Bird review – Chilling film reveals truths about drones ????
“Using the testimony of three courageous whistleblowers who worked on the US drone programme, this documentary uncovers some disturbing truths about modern American warfare.”
“Disturbing” “chilling” “heart-breaking and enraging” “ominously beautiful”
“With stealth and elegance, Kennebeck brings these alarming truths into the light.”
The Nation – When Drone Operators Become Collateral Damage
“Haunting.” “These previously faceless but distinctly non-robotic Air Force recruits are the cannon fodder of America’s drone wars.”
Flavorwire – 10 Tribeca Film Festival Movies You Have to See
“Gripping indictment of America’s increasing reliance on drone warfare… Scary, potent, powerful”
Tribeca Film Festival – Spotlight: National Bird
“Superbly crafted visuals add depth to her concern, while a moment-by-moment account of a drone attack from both sides of the conflict exemplifies the brutality of the program.”
Filmmaker Magazine – Tribeca 2016: Five Questions for National Bird Director Sonia Kennebeck
“The murky, unclear images transmitted by the drone cameras are a serious problem… It’s detached, inhuman and unreal.”
Filmmaker Magazine – Tribeca Critic’s Notebook #1: National Bird, Equals, The Fixer and The Family Fang
“A film of remarkable access and emotional sensitivity, it explores the ethics and efficacy of drone strikes through the lives of three guilt-stricken drone operators.”
International Documentary Associated – At Tribeca, Journalistic Docs Shine
“Urgently topical.” “An intimacy that bespeaks both good journalism and great mutual trust”
Huffington Post – Film Review: National Bird Looks Deeply in the Drone War’s Abyss
“It is terrifying even in the quiet moments; it is most terrifying in the quietest moments”
The New York Times – Eye in the Sky and National Bird Train Sights on Warfare by Remote Control
“‘I wanted to talk to the people on the inside,’ Ms. Kennebeck said, not experts and other talking heads.”
The London Economic – Berlin Film Festival – National Bird – Review
“Meticulous research and sober storytelling… There is no narrator, but the protagonists are so informed, and their stories so compelling, that a commentary could not have added anything.”
Boston Herald – Berlin Film Festival features Meryl Streep, competition, premieres and more
Associated Press International – National Bird gives new perspective on America’s drone war
“National Bird is a powerful antidote to those who argue that drone warfare is an antiseptic way of killing.”
Screen Daily – National Bird: Berlin Review
“This is a personal film about guilt; notably well-assembled”
Screen Daily – Wim Wenders, Sonia Kennebeck talk drone doc National Bird
“Drone warfare documentary National Bird is becoming one of the festival’s buzz documentaries.”
Reuters – Berlin film National Bird gives whistleblower view of drones
“Kennebeck does not get drawn into a debate about drones, but like the Afghan survivors, she hopes her film will wake up the world to the growth of drone warfare.”