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. She lives in New York where she runs her own production company (Ten Forward Films) that makes films about international politics and human rights. Filmmaker Magazine recently selected her 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. and was born in Malacca, Malaysia. NATIONAL BIRD is her first feature-length documentary film.
**Q&As Friday 11/11-Saturday 11/17 after the 7:00PM screeenings
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. — Sonia Kennebeck