When many people hear the word “drone,” they likely picture sinister machines circling middle-eastern skies, searching for terrorists and courting collateral damage.
That’s an image that Ersin Demirci wants to change.
Demirci is the founder of the U.S. Drone Film Festival, a collection of films and unmanned aerial vehicle experts set for Saturday, April 30, at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. The festival has received 183 submissions from 44 different countries and will be the first event of its kind in the region.
“With this festival, we’re hoping to educate the public that drones aren’t just for military use,” Demirci said. “I wanted to found this festival to promote the commercial use of drones and educate the public about them.”
Demirci wears many hats. He’s the founder and CEO of the Small UAV Institute, the executive director of the Dialogue Institute in Oklahoma, and a doctoral candidate studying unmanned aerial vehicles — that is, drones — at Oklahoma State University.
In addition to film screenings, the U.S. Drone Film Festival will feature TED-style speeches from experts and entrepreneurs in UAVs. One of those speakers will be Nick Brown, CEO of Oklahoma City-based commercial drone company Dronebois.
Brown’s company focuses on the practical applications of UAVs, such as equipment inspection, supply delivery or even disaster relief. Brown said Dronebois deployed UAVs to inspect tornado damage in Oklahoma City last spring and that his drones can be used in place of humans to do dangerous inspections.
“It’s priceless aerial data that no one’s ever been able to get before,” Brown said. “Whether it’s powerline inspections or windmill inspections or oil and gas stuff, I think just keeping people out of harm’s way is a big deal. You can’t put a price on a life.”
Brown’s company has a fun side, too, he said. Dronebois recently traveled to Iceland and Puerto Rico to film artistic aerial footage for a Los Angeles-based energy company. These trips will form the basis of Dronebois’ submission to the festival.
“We want to promote the use of drones as artistic expression, as opposed to the negative use,” said Josh Bergevin, Brown’s business partner.
Brown’s speech at the festival will center on practical knowledge for new drone enthusiasts, covering things like UAV regulations and how to obtain proper licenses.
The U.S. Drone Film Festival’s keynote speaker will be the Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology, Stephen W. S. McKeever. Jamey Jacob, director of the Unmanned Systems Research Institute at OSU, is also scheduled to speak.
Demirci expects participants from all over the world, from amateur enthusiasts to groundbreaking artists. He mentioned one man, Laurent Youmi, who backpacked through 11 countries in 15 months collecting drone footage. The film that resulted from Youmi’s adventure will be one of the festival’s highlights, Demirci said.
Every film submitted to the U.S. Drone Film Festival is under five-minutes long and shot at least 50 percent by UAVs. The festival won’t accept submissions that have already aired on U.S. television networks or been produced by a major studio, meaning that a vast majority of the festival’s screenings will feature never-before-seen original work.
‘As cool as possible’
With the proliferation of drone technology in recent years, Brown sees a bright future for the U.S. Drone Film Festival. He hopes to make its speeches available online to spread accurate, positive information about UAVs.
“We want to make this as professional and cool as possible,” Brown said. “We’re going to learn, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to fly. We’re going to run through anything and everything so that if you’re ever interested in drones or UAVs, or want to get into the industry, or have questions, or want to give your feedback, you should come out.”