Review: Collateral damage of drones has consequences in the documentary ‘National Bird’


For her first feature documentary, “National Bird,” director Sonia Kennebeck puts a face on the victims of drone warfare who are both in the United States and abroad. Part of the technology’s appeal is the distance — both physical and emotional — between the U.S. armed forces and their targets, but the film argues that military personnel are affected, even if they are never in the same country as the people considered collateral damage.

At the heart of “National Bird” are three whistle-blowers. Heather is a former drone imagery analyst who struggles with PTSD and takes her story to the Guardian. Daniel is a former government contractor and signals intelligence analyst who worries about what he can and cannot share with everyone in his life. Lisa was a technical sergeant whose work helped in missions that affected more than 120,000 lives.

For the record:

5:47 p.m. June 21, 2024An earlier version of this review stated that “National Bird” is director Sonia Kennebeck’s second feature. It is her first.

All three live with guilt and want to expose the wrongs they’ve witnessed and participated in. The documentary also follows Lisa to Afghanistan, where she talks with the survivors of a 2010 American airstrike that killed 23 people, including children.


Executive produced by genre masters Errol Morris and Wim Wenders, “National Bird” is powerful cinematic journalism. From its intimate interviews to its thematically appropriate — and visually striking — aerial shots, it exposes a form of warfare that may keep American troops physically safe in the present but cause danger here and internationally for the future.


‘National Bird’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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