National Bird
May 1, 10 pm

National Bird

  • BY Sonia Kennebeck | IN War & Military
    Premiered May 1, 2017

About the Film

National Bird follows the dramatic journey of three whistleblowers determined to break the silence around one of the most controversial issues of our time: the secret U.S. drone war, which has been waged globally for more than a decade. The film, executive produced by Errol Morris and Wim Wenders, gives rare insight into the program through the eyes of veterans and survivors, to explore the complexities of drone warfare from a human perspective.   MORE

At the center of the film are three U.S. military veterans — Heather, Daniel, and Lisa. Plagued by guilt over participating in the killing of faceless people in foreign countries, each decides to speak out publicly, regardless of the consequences. Their stories take dramatic turns, leading one of them to Afghanistan, where she learns about a tragic incident involving drone warfare. But her journey also gives hope for peace and redemption.

National Bird explores the difficult circumstances faced by military personnel involved with combat drones, the use of which has transformed modern warfare. Missions are highly classified, and there are no official counts of military or civilian casualties. The need for operators and intelligence analysts is increasing, yet their experiences and perspectives have been largely neglected because of their distance from the battlefield. While it may be true that these veterans don’t sustain battlefield injuries, their psychological wounds can be substantial, leading some to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Pilots and analysts observe airstrikes live and in detail, including the aftermath, when survivors pick up human remains for burial. Yet due to the secrecy of their positions, they are prohibited from discussing the details of their experiences with anyone — even their psychiatrists. For some veterans these constraints are too much to handle.

The Filmmaker

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. National Bird, her first feature-length film, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival 2016 and was also selected for Tribeca, Sheffield and IDFA. Foreign Policy magazine recognized Kennebeck as one of 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2016, and she was also selected as one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2016 by Filmmaker Magazine. Kennebeck received a master’s degree in international affairs from American University in Washington, D.C. She was born in Malacca, Malaysia, and lives in New York, where she runs her own production company. LESS

Film Credits

Director and Producer
Sonia Kennebeck

Ines Hofmann Kanna

Executive Producers
Wim Wenders
Errol Morris
Lois Vossen
Sally Jo Fifer

Director of Photography
Torsten Lapp

Maxine Goedicke

Insa Rudolph

Title Song: "National Bird"
Sole and DJ Pain 1


Lisa Ling
Jesselyn Radack
Asma Nazihi Eschen
General Stanley McChrystal (Ret.)
Kim Dunbar
Allen Capron
and The Afghan Families


Aerial Cinematography
Torsten Lapp
Jason Lam
Pablo Barrera
Edward Kostakis
Paul Callahan

Sound Recordist
Sonia Kennebeck

Production Coordinator

Asma Nazihi Eschen
Fixer Aimal Yaqubi

Production Supervisor
Kay Richter

Assistant Director
Saskia Pöppke

Production Assistants
Patrick Berghold
Andreas Eisenach

SFX Services
SFX Department Berlin Special Effects

VFX Services
Automatik vfx

Cars Reenactment

Casting Services, Extras
Agentur Iris Müller

Casting Services, Voice Over
Sarah Kliban

Voice Over Actors
Jonathan Murphy
Adrian Paoletti
Harrison Wilkes

Recording Engineer
Lisa Devon

Post Production
Post Production Services
The Post Republic Hamburg

Color Grading
Bernie Greiner
Nils Petersen

Sound Design
Sebastian Tesch
Jonathan Ritzel

Foley Artist
Daniel Weis

Foley Recordist and Editor
Moritz Unger

Sound Mix
Ansgar Frerich

Sound Mix Assistant
André Stiebe

Assistant Editor
Silke Zirnité

Willi Haninger

Subtitles Afghanistan
VSI Berlin GmbH

Parsi Sprachdienste

Interview Transcribers
Silke Zirnité
Nevin Wolf

Production Assistants
Tetiana Anderson
Amanda Matthews

Legal Counsel
Frank Dehn

Legal Services Germany
Andreas Pense

Accounting U.S.
Suzanne Snyder

Accounting Germany

Momentous Insurance

Quartett PLUS 1:
Kathrin Pfänder - violin
Kristina van de Sand - violin
Kathrina Hülsmann - viola
Lisa Stepf - cello
Bernhard Meyer – bass
Claudio Puntin – clarinets, electronics

Archival Material
Air Force FOIA Public Liaison Office
Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System
Democracy Now!
Press TV
Radio Azadi
U.S. Air Force

Special Thanks
Sam Adams
Kim Benjamin
Medea Benjamin
Nicole Burton
Paul Cheney
Graham Clumpner
Commonwealth Club San Francisco
Heather Courtney
Thomas Drake
Greg Dunbar
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Lisa Frechette
Cassidy Friedman
HACC Massage Therapy Program
Maximilian Haidbauer
Jen Hair
Barbara Hildebrandt
Matt Howard
Shafqat Hussain
Laura Kacere
Danielle Linebaugh
Abbe Lowell
Siri Margerin
Marcel Mayr
Ruby Mayr
Kathleen McClellan
Alli McCracken
Brock McIntosh
Melanie Meile
Midtown Scholar Book Store
Neato Burrito
Noor Mir
Open Whisper Systems (Signal)
Dustin Olson
Naomi Pitcairn
Kyle Quigley
Red Cross Orthopaedic Center Ali Abad
Karen Robinson
Daniel Rosic
Coleen Rowley
Anna Schnitzer
Ted Sexauer
Kristina Shevory
Norman Solomon
Ben Stewart
Inseeyah Stieldorf
Sven Stieldorf
The Sisters at Saint Ferdinand Parish
The Tor Project
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program at ExposeFacts
Christian Wiesbauer
Emily Yates

In memory of the lives lost on February 21, 2010.

Production Support Provided by Firelight Documentary Lab

Commissioning Editors NDR
Barbara Biemann
Alexander von Sallwitz

Supervising Producer for ITVS
Shana Swanson

Funding Provided by Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein
Deutscher Filmförderfonds
Kuratorium Junger Deutscher Film
National Bird is a co-production of Ten Forward Films LLC, Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

National Bird was produced by Ten Forward Films LLC, which is solely responsible for its content.

© 2016 Ten Forward Films LLC. All Rights Reserved

Do you think the results/benefits of the US military’s secret drone program are worth the human costs both at home and abroad? Did learning about the human faces asked to pilot drones change your perspective on using drones in war?


  • Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize
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Do you think the results/benefits of the US military’s secret drone program are worth the human costs both at home and abroad? Did learning about the human faces asked to pilot drones change your perspective on using drones in war?