This film follows whistleblowers who, despite possible consequences, are determined to break the silence around one of the most controversial issues of our time: the secret U.S. drone war. An Indie Lens Pop-Up screening, co-sponsored by iEAR Presents and WMHT Public Media.
Followed by a discussion with filmmaker Sonia Kenneback, and local activists including Attorney Kathy Manley and John Amidon.
MORE ABOUT NATIONAL BIRD
National Bird follows the dramatic journey of three whistleblowers who are determined to break the silence around one of the most controversial current affairs issues of our time: the secret U.S. drone war. At the center of the film are three U.S. military veterans. Plagued by guilt over participating in the killing of faceless people in foreign countries, they decide to speak out publicly, despite the possible consequences.
Their stories take dramatic turns, leading one of the protagonists to Afghanistan where she learns about a horrendous incident. But her journey also gives hope for peace and redemption. National Bird gives rare insight into the U.S. drone program through the eyes of veterans and survivors, connecting their stories as never seen before in a documentary. Its images haunt the audience and bring a faraway issue close to home.
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.
MORE ABOUT FILMMAKER SONIA KENNEBACK and PANELISTS
Sonia Kennebunk, Director & Producer
PGP Public Key and Fingerprint:
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Sonia Kennebeck is an independent documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist with more than 15 years of directing and producing experience. She has directed eight television documentaries and more than 50 investigative reports. Most recently, she completed her first feature-length documentary, National Bird, a film about the U.S. drone war which was executive produced by Wim Wenders and Errol Morris and premiered in the prestigious Specials Section of the Berlin Film Festival 2016 and was also selected for Tribeca, Sheffield and IDFA, among many other festivals. National Bird will open in theaters in the U.S. and Europe in November and will be broadcast on PBS in spring 2017. Filmmaker Magazine selected Sonia Kennebeck as one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2016. Sonia Kennebeck received a Master’s degree in International Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C. She was born in Malacca, Malaysia and lives in New York.
Now a solo practitioner, Kathy was at Kindlon Shanks & Associates from 1997-2016. Kathy’s main emphasis is criminal defense and constitutional rights. She concentrates on appeals, and has written many winning briefs before the NYS Court of Appeals, the Appellate Division, Third Department and other courts. In 2014 she won the case of People v. Diack, which struck down county and local sex offender residence restrictions throughout New York State.
Kathy works with many civil rights groups, including Project SALAM, the Muslim Solidarity Committee, National Lawyers Guild, and the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, where she serves as the Chair of the Legal Committee. She is also the Vice President of the Albany chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Kathy has received many awards for her work, including the Carol S. Knox Award from the NYCLU Capitol Region Chapter in 2015; the Peacemaker award from Upper Hudson Peace Action in 2015; the Service of Justice Award from the NYS Defenders Association in 2013, the Ed Bloch Voices that Challenge Award from the NYS Interfaith Alliance in 2009, and the Justice and Peace Award from the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District in 2008.
John Amidon is an antiwar peace activist residing in Albany, NY. His activism takes shape in many different formats. A quick search of John Amidon and the Times Union will reveal that he is an accomplished writer, a concerned citizen and an active civil resister. He is the current President of Veterans For Peace, Albany Chapter, a long time attender of Albany Friends Meeting and a member and past president of the Interfaith Alliance of NYS. His sense of justice and moral convictions compels him to take strong stands against drone warfare and nuclear weapons amongst other concerns. In 2016 he was arrested at both the Nevada National Test Site and this past December, at Hancock Air Field, in DeWitt, NY, dressed as St. Joseph, part of a living Nativity protest against drones. He has worked diligently to challenge Islamophobia with a 2016 voter registration drive at Capital District Mosques. He firmly believes in Love/God and his activism is spiritually based. He is the founder and co-facilitator of the Kateri Tekakwatha Interfaith Peace Conference held in Fonda, NY. He has visited 25 countries in his travels and encourages everyone to explore the world for “learning befriends the traveler”. His youtube website pazamidon documents many of the protests he has participated in and his skillful use of videography and photography. His 4 years of active duty in the USMC, 65-69, taught him that war is a savage and murderous lie. He is a great admirer and student of the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata and has taught Hindu Heritage classes. Finally and last but not least ,he is a grower of dahlias and like so many, he yearns for spring to plant a summer garden.