Earlier in the year Alex Gibney released his documentary about Wikileaks, We Steal Secrets, now director Chris Richmond and producer Mike Sedgwick have gone one step further. With Drone Strike they have made the first film based on revelations from Bradley Manning’s terabytes of data.
Only running for 20 minutes, Drone Strike nonetheless powerfully brings home the horror of modern warfare. The story concerns two ordinary Joes, or an ordinary Joe and an ordinary Jamal, one in Lincolnshire and the other in Helmand Province. One is a a pilot in the RAF and the other a manual labourer. One is comfortably off, the other a pauper.
Drone Strike follows the mundane life in a day of these people, until they collide with devastating results. They collide because although they live many thousands of miles apart, the English part of the equation is not in the air force so much as in the ‘chair force’. That is, he sits in a portacabin and flies armed ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ over Afghanistan.
The film was directed and co-written by Chris Richmond, and last week he and some of his team attended a Q&A after a screening. Asked about his research, Richmond said that most of it had been done through the internet. This did not sound particularly hopeful (surely actually interviewing relevant people is a better idea?) until he explained that he, and his co-writer Mike Sedgwick, had used transcripts of drone strikes from Wikileaks. That is a probably as close as it is necessary, or possible, to get to this story. It also reminds us of the importance of Wikileaks – especially when he revealed he’d toned down some of the language used.
The effectiveness of the film comes from both the fact of the strange mix of disconnection and intimate connection between these two lives, and the close proximity of theatre of war and home life for both men. This situation is realised in subtle performances from the two leads, Mark Bazeley and Hamid Boltbaldin.
Another Q&A questioner asked why the Afghan part of the story was relatively short compared to the UK section. Richmond explained this was because the film was shot in Morocco using actors who spoke either Berber or Arabic, but who had to repeat lines in Pashto. I would say that although the ‘Afghans’ might get less screen time, but the principal Moroccan actor Hamid Boltbaldin still conveys the quiet dignity of his character.
The most controversial use of drones is actually not in Afghanistan, but in neighbouring Pakistan. There drones are used to kill terrorists, although they are also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians. Luckily, the RAF does not use the technology in this way. The USAF however is probably right in thinking that drones are many times more accurate than carpet bombing enemy sanctuaries – the tactic they used in Laos and Cambodia to attack enemy bases in neutral territory.
The staggering amount of explosive dropped on those countries during the 1960s and 1970s is reckoned to have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, not to mention hundreds who are still being maimed each year from unexploded munitions. In comparison, drones can seem positively humane. However, Drone Strike reminds us in very simple, but powerful terms that even the death of one individual will have very real consequences for everyone involved.
See the website here: drone-strike.com