Alarming Doc ‘Drone’ Asks What It Means for War to Be a Video Game


A feature of easy-to-use cameras, then of video games, “point and click” is now also one of the main ways many countries kill their enemies. In her provocative documentary Drone, Tonje Hessen Schei shows how, actually, the U.S. and its military-industrial complex treat war like a video game — to the point where finding gamers adept at video war is a legit recruiting tactic.

“We sat in a box for nearly twelve-hour shifts,” says Brandon Bryant, a former drone pilot. “I was typically on a night shift. It was quieter. All the lights were usually off except for the light coming from the monitors. It was so weird just being able to watch people’s lives.”

The use of drones is touted by the military and the administration as a “fantastically accurate,” even “surgical” way to take out enemies, reducing collateral damage. But of course civilians are killed, including children who, even when they don’t die, learn to dread sunny blue skies and favor cloudy ones, when drones don’t fly.

Watching Drone won’t make you more comfortable with our government’s arguments. Schei’s film is edited for an audience used to not just video games but also television shows like Homeland, with energetic cuts and music-pumping drama. When she interviews Bryant, though, her camera lingers, allowing for his quiet pauses. According to some of Schei’s experts, one improvement would be to give his job to algorithms, the Google self-driving car of drone killing. That might spare our soldiers the tedium and trauma, but it would fail to absolve us of the way we deprive so many of our own ideal of “innocent till proven guilty.”

“I remember watching a wedding,” says Bryant, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress and advocates against drone warfare. “I mean, these were people enjoying themselves…. But someone in that wedding was a bad person…. I’m watching this person, and this person has no clue. We’re the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate peeping Toms. And we’re getting orders to take these people’s lives. It was just ‘point.’ And ‘click.’ ”


Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei

Opens November 20, AMC Empire 25