Your film begins with President Obama’s description—that he’s “haunted” by the loss of civilian lives. What moved you to make that that description a guiding motif in the film?
A couple of things. I’ve been trying to think about the ways we can talk about drones beyond the legal reports. So what are the ways that we can think about what it means to experience life under drones. Another aspect is that yes, Obama said he is haunted by loss of civilian life, but that nevertheless we need to continue with our war. I thought that was interesting because there’s a whole literature within academia and in fiction about ghosts and haunting and what that means. If you think about Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The sociologist Avery Gordon has an excellent book on this called Ghostly Matters. Being haunted is about not being able to go on as if you were not being haunted. Even horror films are about this.
To me, his phrase seems somewhat disingenuous. But I wanted to take him seriously. Because I think in some ways politicians are so used to us not taking them seriously, when in fact it’s a way of giving them a pass. But what if you actually took these people seriously, at their word—not in a naive way, but critically hold them accountable for things they were saying. So that was the other thought. I wanted to find a new way to explore what is the real experience in the waste and the rubble of this war.
Haunting is a frame to think about experience and ethics. There’s a line in Adorno about ghosts: “Only a conscious horror of destruction can create the proper relationship with the dead.” I think that’s true for the living too. We have to understand in our bones in some sense what the experience of destruction is. That’s a way to create an ethical relationship with the people who are actually victims of this war. The law can adjudicate certain questions that are certainly important, but if you want to talk about an actual relationship with the people who are on the receiving end of these secret wars, you have to start by understanding their experiences.