Documentary Film Prize Recipient, 2017

National Bird, directed and produced by Sonia Kennebeck, is the 2017 recipient of The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize.

National Bird follows the dramatic journey of three whistleblowers who are determined to break the silence around one of the most controversial current affairs issues of our time: the secret U.S. drone war. At the center of the film are three U.S. military veterans. Plagued by guilt over participating in the killing of faceless people in foreign countries, they decide to speak out publicly, despite the possible consequences. The filmgives rare insight into the U.S. drone program through the eyes of veterans and survivors, connecting their stories as never seen before in a documentary.

The Obama administration acknowledged killing 117 civilians, but organizations like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism put that number far higher, into the many hundreds. Through the film, wrote Kennebeck, she hoped “to enliven the public debate not just by enriching the existing discourse with a balanced portrait of the U.S. drone program, but more importantly by illuminating the impact this program has on the people — veterans and survivors — the human side of this war.”

“In its chilling expose of the consequential direct personal and social trauma of drone warfare National Bird exemplifies the spirit of fearless truth-telling that whistleblower and investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour reflected throughout his extraordinary life and career,” said the selection committee.

Kennebeck said: “It’s a great honor and reinforcement of our work to receive the Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize during a time when journalists and whistleblowers are facing so much opposition for exposing government misconduct and telling the truth. National Bird documents the lengths the US government will go to silence whistleblowers, highlighting the courage and conscience of those who decide to come forward and speak out against the drone war. This award acknowledges the important role of whistleblowers and investigative journalists in a democracy and it encourages me and my team to continue our work in the spirit of Ron Ridenhour.”

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.

She began her career as a broadcast producer in Washington, DC and worked five years as an investigative reporter for Germany’s highest-rated and longest-running current affairs program Panorama. Kennebeck received a Master’s degree in International Affairs from American University in Washington, DC. She was born in Malacca, Malaysia and lives in New York.

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