Calvin Fagan presents ‘Remediating Drones in Contemporary War Cinema’

Wednesday 10th June, 5:30pm, Hitchcock Cinema (Arts One, G19).

The controversial advent of drone warfare has engendered staunch criticism over the ethics of remote killing, with such critiques typically designating drones as the culmination of military-technological trends toward virtualising distanciation that reduce war to the level of a video game. This would seem to problematise the very notion of cinematic remediation, highlighting the growing divide between the war genre’s reliance upon embodied heroics and the virtual interactivity that purportedly characterises both gaming and actual drone missions. Yet recent work by the likes of Derek Gregory has begun to counter such assumptions by focusing in greater detail upon the drone ‘assemblage’ and the subjective perceptual experience of the operator, contending that the high-resolution imaging produces a more intimate sense of visual proximity which is directly responsible for the surprisingly high incidences of PTSD among operators. This paper will explore contemporary cinematic remediations of drones in light of the above theorisations, with a particular focus on the dynamics of panopticism and embodiment. From the first wave of drone remediations in CIA thrillers such as Syriana (2005) and Body of Lies (2008) through to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2013), I will address the aesthetic rendition of drone imagery in these films in terms of its differentiation from satellites and panoptic surveillance. Finally, through a more extended reading of Omer Fast’s Five Thousand Feet is the Best (2011), I will consider how the film’s haptic imagery and haunting fracturing of both spatio-temporal continuity and subjectivity suggest a radically different regime of drone imaging.

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