Drones Soar onto the Big Screen

Deb Miller Landau iQ Managing Editor

The first-ever Flying Robot International Film Festival makes drones stars of the silver screen.

One day soon the world might be swirling with flying robots. Drones, in all shapes and sizes, could soon be whizzing around overhead. Camera-equipped drones are becoming the eyeballs in the back of the collective consciousness — they will see things never before envisioned, leading us into the shadowy corners and vast open spaces of the future.

At least that’s the spirit of Flying Robot International Film Festival being held in San Francisco on November 19.


“What got me excited about drones was seeing the footage from them, getting that bird’s eye view that wasn’t previously possible,” said Eddie Codel, a pioneer in drone videography and the brainchild behind the first ever international film festival devoted to drones.

Codel talks about drones with the fervor of an 8-year-old with a new Lego set — the possibilities are limited only by imagination.

Codel’s imagination seems limitless. For years he has been a digital photographer turned maker. Drones embody both passionate pursuits.

He’s emblematic of the skyrocketing drone economy that could result in a million drones sold during this year’s holiday season, according to FAA official Rich Swayze in an interview with ATW Online.

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He created the film festival as an outlet for other drone enthusiasts, a way to create community and passion.

“With the proliferation of drones today, there’s just a ton of people making great content,” he said. “I felt like there needed to be a place to celebrate that.”

Submissions to the festival are open until October 15.


Codel wanted to make the festival accessible to many people as possible, so he kept entry fees low (just $10, free for students) and offered up six categories to encourage interest from a variety of people, both local and international.

The categories include: Cinematic, Drones for Good, Aerial Sports, LOL WTF, I Made That! and Student Films. Codel said the categories encourage storytelling, using drone footage to create a new format of storytelling, but it’s also the stories behind the footage that are equally compelling.

The Drones for Good category, for example, highlights people doing compassionate humanitarian work using drones.

Efforts like the Syria Airlift Project are using drones to bring food and medical aid into war-torn Syria. Mark Jacobsen, Founder and Executive Director of Uplift Aeronautics, the company behind the relief effort, said in Syria, starvation and medical deprivation are used as weapons of war. He and his team are using drones to safely deliver aid.

“Our vision is that when someone tries to starve out an entire neighborhood,” he said, “we will darken the skies above with food.”

In the “I Made That!” category, Kristoff Grospe recreated the Delorian from Back to the Future, while another entrant let his drone camera loose on his old college campus.

In the cinematic category, Mike Bishop shot majestic landscapes of the Switzerland countryside, including sweeping aerial shots of the Verzasca Dam, using only his DJI Phantom 2 and GoPro Hero4.

Codel has assembled an impressive panel of judges including Veronica Belmont, who hosts Engadget’s Dear Veronica; Mike Senese from Make: Magazine and Terrence Williams from AerialSkyLab and 3DR.

Winners in each category receive cash and prizes — plus bragging rights and the opportunity to be a part of drone history.

For Codel, he’s just excited to see his hobby hit the big screen.

“In the early drone days you had to piece everything together yourself. It was much more of a hacker mentality,” he said.

“Now you can get off-the-shelf autonomous drones. But you can also build one of your own. What you do with them is the incredible thing.”

The Flying Robot International Film Festival screening takes place on November 19 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater, the longest continuously operated cinema in the country. Buy tickets to the event here.

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