DRONES: The Private Perceptions of Drone Technology.
In our world of total mediatization there is nothing extraordinary about being photographed. But in some cases this is perceived quite differently. We know the deep mistrust and refusal in people of certain ancient cultures to having their pictures taken, an act often associated with mortification.
Meanwhile, in our own culture in the world of advanced observation systems, being watched isn’t at all a neutral condition: Being observed in the «wrong place» can easily lead to persecution, torture, and even death. There is at present a growing global tendency of current societies descending into dictatorships.
Within modern film culture, perhaps the most impressive work that combines the acts of spying and killing is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), in which the protagonist uses his film camera as a murder weapon.
«The observer finds himself in a god-like position, able to kill anyone at any time.»
Seeing and killing. The techno-philosophical basis concerning the relationship between seeing and killing was developed by French cultural theorist Paul Virilio. He combined the complexity of this relationship with two other major problems: The constant and growing speed in our technology systems leading to the loss of human capacities to interfere in the process, and the «information bomb» as a new deadly arrangement of disorientation.
Drone technology brings all these dimensions to their technical climax. Invisible to the observed victims, drones follow their targets over weeks and months, sometimes even years. These targets remain unidentified, nameless subjects to their viewers; they are only identified by a metadata analysis system, which classifies them as a potential threat.
The remarkable short film Fix Find Finish by Sylvain Cruiziat and Mila Zhluktenko was screened at the most recent edition of Switzerland’s «Visions du Réel» Festival. The film focuses on the strange and perverse relationship between observer and observed in the high-tech sector: The observer finds himself in an ambivalent position being, on the one hand, in a god-like position, able to kill anyone at any time; and on the other, depending on the order to act from higher up in the system.
What are the thoughts and feelings going through the minds of these observers? In the field, what soldiers try to avoid most is looking directly at their victims. Here, it is the primary aim. They penetrate the private spheres of their targets to a degree that has never before been possible. One of the agents revealed the extent of the forced voyeurism towards his victim when he had to watch him have sex on the roof of a building. Another voiceover testimony went on to admit that his infrared camera even allows him to see the shit coming out of his target’s body, and that he has witnessed this hundreds of times during his duties.
But what humanises the targets is seeing them behave as loving fathers, hugging their children or taking part in weddings and funerals.
«One of the agents revealed the extent of the forced voyeurism towards his victim when he had to watch him have sex on the roof of a building.»
Targets, not people. The strategy of detachment becomes a necessity. Another voiceover in the film makes this very clear: «Have you ever stepped on an anthill and not given it a second thought?» For the sake of the observer’s sanity, the targets can’t be viewed as real people.
Visually, Sylvain Cruiziat and Mila Zhluktenk underline this transformation into a filtered reality with their continuous drone perspectives. In some especially remarkable scenes, the shadows of the observed targets are captured more prominently than the people themselves. Furthermore, a set of verbal abbreviations serves the detachment process. For example, the killing order «Find, Fix, Finish» is just called «3F».
But reality comes back in the form of well-founded doubts – as in the case of one target who is only on the observation list because his son was killed in a previous CIA strike. Sometimes, people who simply happen to have had some – any – form of physical interaction with a high value target, for example during an official event, will themselves become targets.
The «information bomb» will make wrong decisions. Targets are not accurately defined and identified as people, but as objects chosen through patterns and behaviour. The mere number of these misattributed, innocent victims, the facts of which are often only revealed months later, is quite stunning.
What are the human consequences of all this knowledge about possible «mistakes»? It can be quite a grotesque final trace of humanity: «We waited for him to leave his son’s gravestone and then we got all the necessary clearances to finish him».
Find Fix Finish does use some fictional elements, as the film itself indicates. The overall dense cinematographic work pulls us effectively and immediately inside the hidden world of secret services. This is all carefully based on a set of literature, as quoted in the film’s credits, delivering both personal testimonies and technical details.