Drone Technology Takes Filmmakers to New Heights

Image from "Running Into the Air," by Austrian filmmaker Sebastian Woeber.

The winner of the “drones for good” category of the first Flying Robot International Film Festival shows Mark Jacobson using humanitarian drones to “end the use of starvation and medical deprivation as weapons of war.”  

In the video, Jacobson and others with the Syria Airlift Project can be seen airlifting life-saving supplies into war zones in Syria via drones.

Other categories at the festival of 20 short videos shown Thursday at the Roxie Theater included Cinematic, Narrative, Student Film, I Made That!, WTF LOL, Aerial Sports, and Drones For Good.

Perhaps most provoking was a video called “Compilation,” the winner of “I Made That!” category in which the five minute clip shows Dutch drone enthusiast and apparent taxidermist aficionado Bart Jansen turning his deceased cat as well as an ostrich, shark, and rat into a flying drones.

“It’s a ‘what-am-I-looking-at’ kind of situation,” said Flying Robot’s founder, Eddie Codel, who is a Mission resident.   All of the animals were dead long before they were transformed into drones, he added.

 “There’s different purposes and niches that have been created around drones I wanted to highlight some of the things that normally don’t get a lot of attention at other film festivals,” he said.

The act of building and repairing drones, he said, is part of the technology’s riveting fascination for many “dronies.”

The “aerial cinema” festival was the first of of its kind on the West Coast, and while privacy and public safety concerns continue to narrate the conversation around drones, Flying Robot, focused on the technology’s unprecedented cinematic and humanitarian uses.

“I truly feel that festivals like this are bridging the gap in showing that art and creativity can be captured with a drone by telling stories in a ways that we weren’t able to several years ago,” said aerial videographer Christopher Saad. “We want to show the public that they can be used for amazing things, for humanitarian reasons.”

Flying Robot Film Festival founder Eddie Codel showcased the winning films, shot using drone technology, at the Roxie Theater on November 19. Photo By Rajiv Rao

Flying Robot Film Festival founder Eddie Codel showcased the winning films, shot using drone technology, at the Roxie Theater on November 19. Photo By Rajiv Rao

Other videos showed drones being used to test water quality, monitor poaching, and track rainforest deforestation.

Yet regulations for the new and rapidly growing technology are still lagging. A task force assigned with developing registration rules for drones will submit its recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration on Saturday.

The push is an effort to keep track of the increasing numbers of drones entering national airspace, and comes as a result of “drone sightings” by airplane pilots and other alarming run-ins. In Seattle, a pilot attempted to fly a drone through a Ferris Wheel, causing the drone to crash.

In the Mission, the technology is embraced with mixed emotions. Sam Durham, who was at the festival,  recounted how he was once confronted about his drone while attempting to fly on Bernal Hill.

“Some guy came up to me and said ‘it’s the same technology used for so much chaos in the world,’” said Durham.  “I didn’t have a response for him at the time, but now I would say ‘the same technology can be used for so much good.’”

“I do think there’s a lot of fear around drones, largely because it’s a new thing,” said Codel. “But not all concerns are legitimate. Oftentimes when people complain about a drone spying on them it’s not actually the case.”

When asked about the drone hype, Codel, who immersed himself in the hobby three years ago, explained that there is “something about a flying robot that is an extension of yourself.”

Most of the drone and cinema enthusiasts that attended the festival attested to the drones’ unique ability of elevating film and other industries  to new heights.

“Drones can be witnesses to things that we normally wouldn’t get to see,” said journalist and film critic Edie Sellers, who was one of the judges. “It’s revolutionizing all industries, from agriculture to film and journalism, and that’s why drones are so much of a buzzword at the moment.”

Sellers said she was impressed with hundreds of submissions that organizers received from all around the world.  “Its an absolutely burgeoning market and drones have totally opened up filmmaking for the independent filmmaker all of these overhead and crane shots that would normally cost thousands of dollars can now be done fairly inexpensively and quickly.”

These “high-end” shots were evidenced in “Running into the Air,” the winning three-minute video by Austrian filmmaker Sebastian Woeber in the category “Cinematic: Postcard.”

The clip depicts a breathtaking flight over Switzerland, in which the filmmaker steers his drone on a scenic tour past mountains tops, weaving through forests and flying just inches away from the surface of serene lake and rivers.

“Often, drones encourage people to build and repair,” explained Codel. “It’s educational in the sense that we are learning about science, electronics, and learning how to be a good pilot.”

The learning starts young, as became evident by the submissions in the festival’s Student Film category.  Quinn Muller, a 13-year-old student at the Mission-based Brightworks School, took the prize with “Electric Africa,” in which he tells the story of a solar energy company in East Africa, using drone videography.

“There is no denying that technology is the future for our children so it’s all about being raised with the right kinds of guidelines and motivations in mind in terms of how they’re using it,” said Quinn’s mother, Annie Muller, who accepted the award on his behalf. Her son is currently back in Africa, she explained, shooting his second drone film.

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