The Most Dangerous Man in America

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers is a documentary about, surprise, Daniel Ellsberg. He went from being an insider in the Pentagon to leaking documents that proved that five Presidents lied to the American people about the Vietnam war. The shift started when “he met a girl.”

I actually took a Watergate class in high school in the late 1970’s, and I had heard of Ellsberg, but most of the details were new to me. The film is probably a little biased, seeing as how it is narrated by Ellsberg, but not badly so. I found it quite engaging, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of that era. I’ll give it a strong  out of . It was nominated for an Oscar® for best documentary feature.

I saw it on 2/14/2010 at the Camera Cinema Club. Judith Ehrlich, who along with Rick Goldsmith wrote, directed, and produced the film, was at the screening to answer questions (there may be spoilers below):

  • Their goal was to make an exciting film, like a political thriller
  • She was teaching in northern Vermont, and didn’t know much about it at the time
  • The Nixon tapes are public domain–she used interns to transcribe them, and went through 300+ hours of tapes (which isn’t all of them by any means)
  • Did the relevance to current events affect this film? They started four years ago, during the Bush years
  • They do try to keep the story in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with a brief part at the end in the current time
  • Comment that Presidents like to get us into wars to keep the machine going, and really don’t like to get us out
  • They showed the film to 1000 high school kids in Palm Springs
  • A Vietnam veteran read the papers while in Vietnam–the soldiers were already convinced that the public was being lied to, so the details didn’t matter that much to them
  • Would the press do this today? Would they take those risks? Perhaps not with their corporate ownership
  • Ellsberg now self-publishes some additional documents on the internet
  • The animation is there to try to create a slightly lighter moment
  • Ellsberg refers to “Vietnamistan”
  • Ellsberg is not 100% a pacifist
  • His wife inherited a fair amount of money, so he hasn’t had to work much
  • Having lost his Top Secret clearance was hard for him–he liked knowing those secrets
  • This was the most important court decision on free speech in history, and it was done in 10 days
  • Ellsberg remains optimistic–he thinks information will solve problems
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