November 7-9, 2014

Most Dangerous Man in America

Judith Ehrlich
Rick Goldsmith
84 minutes

The Most Dangerous Man in America catapults us to 1971 where we find America in the grip of a familiar scenario: a dirty war based on lies.  And Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, one of the nation’s leading war planners, has the documents to prove it.  Armed with 7000 pages of Top Secret documents; he leaks the truth about the Vietnam War to The New York Times and risks life in prison to end the war he helped plan.  It is a story that held the world in its grip, with daily headlines, the top story on the nightly news for weeks on end. 

What makes a dedicated Cold Warrior throw away his high-level access, his career, his friends, and risk life in prison for a mere CHANCE at helping to end the war?  The Daniel Ellsberg in the first part of the film is a brilliant, complex man wrestling with his conscience over his role in a war he sees first as a problem to be solved, then as a hopeless stalemate, finally as a crime to be stopped at any costs. 

Ellsberg’s leak of the top-secret Pentagon Papers to The New York Times sets into motion an extraordinary series of events.  The Nixon Administration first goes after the nation’s press, resulting in a First Amendment battle that, within two weeks, ends up in the Supreme Court.  Ellsberg goes underground to avoid a nationwide FBI manhunt.  When he emerges, he is hailed as a hero, accused of being a traitor, ostracized by friends, and finds himself on trial for his life. 

But even while on trial, the charismatic Ellsberg grabs center stage.   Ever-present on talk shows and press conferences, he reveals to the American public important truths about government secrecy and lies.  Dubbed by Henry Kissinger as “the most dangerous man in America who must be stopped at all costs,” Ellsberg is targeted by President Nixon himself, who fears Ellsberg might leak some of Nixon’s own war plans.  “Screw the courts,” says the President, “let’s try the son-of-a-bitch in the press.”  But Nixon’s obsession with Ellsberg leads to the President’s downfall, and, by a series of events Ellsberg couldn’t have imagined, an end, finally, to the Vietnam War. 

Our tale is told by Ellsberg — as narrator, in current interviews and riveting archival footage — and a cast of supporting characters who “lived” the Pentagon Papers episode including Ellsberg’s wife and son, “coconspirator” Tony Russo, historian/activist Howard Zinn, journalists Hedrick Smith and Max Frankel, attorneys Lenny Weinglass and James Goodale, Watergate principals Egil “Bud” Krogh and John Dean, and — in a rarely seen interview and his own secret White house tapes — President Nixon himself. 

Our film speaks directly to the world today, as national security and the people’s right-to-know are in constant tension.   It raises questions about civil courage, following conscience, taking risks, and speaking truth to power.  It challenges people everywhere who are looking to better understand the world of power and who search their own hearts for ways to take a stand and make a difference. 

Judith Ehrlich co-produced and co-directed the award winning PBS documentary, “The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It” (2001), a story of men guided by principle to take the unpopular position of pacifism in the face of World War II.  This revealing look at questions of war, conscience, activism and the spiritual life of committed individuals was funded by ITVS and the MacArthur Foundation and won both major US history film awards in 2003.  Daniel Ellsberg served as an advisor on that film.  Ehrlich made dozens of prize-winning educational films and radio documentaries for two decades on subjects of the peace movement, education, citizen participation and low-income housing.   Her clients include:  The American Friends Service committee; the National Park Service; American Red Cross; ACLU; the Packard Foundation and the California State Library System.  She is currently producing and directing a film on the internment and relocation of Italian American during WWII for PBS broadcast.   

Ehrlich was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Napa, California.  She graduated from UC Berkeley with Honors in Political Science and holds a Masters in Education with honors from University of Vermont.  Ehrlich rides her bike to work most days and teaches Documentary film at Berkeley City College.   She is married to her recording engineer and has a son who is a Mountain bike racer and UC Santa Cruz freshman.

Rick Goldsmith produced and directed the Academy-Award-nominated documentary feature “Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press” (1996), broadcast nationwide on public television and cablecast on the Sundance Channel.  The film dissects American journalism throughout the Twentieth Century through the actions of a truly independent newspaperman, and is a piercing look at censorship and suppression in the media.  Goldsmith also co-produced and co-directed “Everyday Heroes” (2001), a behind-the-headlines documentary feature about AmeriCorps (the domestic Peace Corps), told through a diverse team of young men and women who give a year of their lives to national service.  He was writer and editor on two recent one-hour documentaries, Judith Schaefer’s “So Long Are You Young” (2006) and Abby Ginzberg’s “Soul of Justice: Thelton Henderson’s American Journey” (2005), which was broadcast nationwide on public television in February, 2008. 

Goldsmith was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and came of age during the war in Vietnam.  He studied architecture and dabbled in film at the Rhode Island School of Design.  In 1975 he traveled west and has lived in the Bay Area ever since.

Sunday, November 7, 2010
Block 1a: 9:00am-10:45am