Independent animator Sean Buckelew’s hand-drawn shorts find clever ways of commenting on technology’s increasing role in our society. His latest film, Drone, imagines what would happen if an autonomous Predator drone went rogue and refused to carry out its missile-launching directives. Ahead of the film’s release next month, we’re excited to present an exclusive online preview of this sly satire about drones, sentience, and the perception-altering strategies employed by both the CIA and public relations agents.
In 2013, a former military general published an op-ed titled “Predator and Reaper drones are misunderstood, says manufacturer,” in The Guardian. According to Buckelew, in it he described “how the drone program had a bad image and was in need of a full rebrand.” It was an idea Buckelew found amusing and as time went by, it slowly germinated into Drone’s main focus. By 2017, Buckelew’s script was in full swing: a pithy blend of Mary Shelley’s soulful Frankenstein and Stanley Kubrick’s witty Dr. Strangelove commenting on “the social and cultural politics of emerging technology.”
“It is clear that we humans have a distinct inability to pump the brakes on our own ingenuity, even when it involves our own destruction or acts so morally heinous, they have to be kept at extreme distances.” SEAN BUCKELEW
Buckelew’s piercing critique of modern America’s dubious military ethics avoids feeling ham-handed. Instead, his expert character-work — paragon in the scary-but-lovable autonomous drone Newton (a Shakespearean Finn Wittrock) — infuses his delicate compositions with compassion. Through his animated art, Buckelew has found a way of collapsing today’s complicated politics into affecting vignettes that capture the victims of a changing world.
Sean Buckelew received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, an MFA in Experimental Animation from the California Institute of the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019. His 2016 reverie of internet romance Lovestreams was selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick and Drone recently won the Craft Prize for Best Script at the Ottawa International Festival. Buckelew is currently the President of the Board of Directors and head programmer at Berkeley’s annual GLAS Animation Festival. He is also working on his debut feature No Glory in the West, and writing alongside co-executive producing an adult animated series about space exploration for HBOMax titled Scavengers Reign.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer. Special thanks to Jack Wedge.