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Hot Docs Interview: Tonje Hessen Schei talks about Drone



War. Deadly weapons. Death. This is all the aftermath of declared war, or undeclared war around the world that could have been easily prevented if a small group of people with big ambitions would give up on the idea of creating a dangerous weapon, such as a drone, which can be deployed while sitting in one part of the world, while targeting another. The Documentary film DRONE, directed by Tonje Hessen Schei, takes us inside the secret CIA drone war. Intimate stories from the recruitment of young pilots at gaming conventions; people that live under drones in Pakistan and drone pilots struggling with killing through joysticks in the US; its consequences, and the possible future which may not be as bright as we may think. During the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto, I had the tremendous opportunity to interview Tonje Hessen Schei, who kindly shared a minute of her time to answer my questions.

MovieMovesMe: According to your film, the military is now using tools from the world of entertainment to do their job more effectively. Can you talk about the ‘effective’ part? 

TonjeHessenSchei: In DRONE we look at the close relationship between the military and the entertainment industry, where the military is now using tools from the entertainment world to do their job better. They are recruiting drone pilots through video games, and consulting on which interface to use in the drone programs, and what joystick works the best.

MMM: Brandon Bryant, former drone pilot, was the only one who actually admitted that what he has done is a crime. It was pretty dangerous for him to come out to tell his story. How did you convince him to do that?

THS: Brandon agreed to work with us after a long period of building trust and understanding that we wanted to tell the whole story, and not just the tabloid press coverage he was receiving at the time. Brandon is taking great risks to speak out and tell his story from the inside of the drone program. This is incredibly important to better understand how the drone program works.

MMM: In your film, you talked about the drones capability, not only in wars, but in our future as well. Can you tell me how you see our future unfolding?

THS: I believe drones have changed warfare and possibly our future. The US is setting a very dangerous precedent with the CIA’s use of drones – and people need to understand the consequences of this standard of warfare. Thousands of civilians have been killed by drones, and  drones are not the surgically precise weapons they are represented to be by the Obama administration and the mainstream media.

MMM: The use of drones is very dangerous, especially when used against civilians. Do you think if people would protest against the U.S. using drones, the CIA would stop using them?

THS: I have a lot of belief in the power of the people! There are countless ways to take action – and we need to make sure we keep our authorities accountable for their decisions and actions!

MMM: Drones are quite a powerful tool which elicit great fear. Do you think if the C.I.A continues their use it may trigger an arms race in some parts of the world?

THS: The spread of military drones is happening incredibly fast. Around 100 countries now have this capability, or are developing them. To me it is just a question of time before Russia, China or Iran start taking out people around the world they see as imminent threats. So I really hope that people get engaged after seeing the film as we really need to know what is going on in order to understand the real consequences of CIA drone warfare – as well as the war on terror.

MMM:  Drone is one of the documentary films that everyone will assume was directed by a male. Being a woman, targeting such a controversial subject, was it hard for you to get through all the challenges before completing the project?

THS: A lot of journalists that have written about DRONE have assumed that I’m a man. Which I think is rather funny. Otherwise I’ve often found that being a female director on this issue has given me a lot of leverage and respect. I rarely think of myself in terms of being a woman when I work, which also, probably, is because here in Norway the equality between women and men is far more advanced as compared to the States. For me the most important thing has been to build a strong team of people that I love working with. Documentary filmmaking is hard work and it’s incredibly important to have a strong team! And of course it is so much more fun!

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