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Film Update

Filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith give an update on Daniel Ellsberg and his family, compares WikiLeaks and the Afghan War Diary to the Pentagon Papers and talk about their reactions to the Oscar nomination for their film.

  • October 5, 2010

POV: What is Daniel Ellsberg up to? How are he and his family? What was their reaction to the film?

The Most Dangerous Man: Daniel Ellsberg jpg

Daniel Ellsberg. Photo courtesy of Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg.

Rick Goldsmith: Dan is very politically active and engaged, as he has been continuously since the Pentagon Papers era. He and Patricia were very pleased with the film, and have both traveled often with it, speaking to audiences about the events, issues and personalities covered in the film, as well as the resonant issues of today, particularly secrecy in government and the United States' role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The recent controversy around Wikileaks, its founder Julian Assange, and accused whistleblower private Bradley Manning have put Daniel again in the public eye, with numerous appearances on radio and television talk shows and in the press.

Judith Ehrlich: It is always a treat to have Dan appear with the film, since there is a guaranteed standing ovation for him, often before the curtain has risen.

Patricia Ellsberg and I have done a number of appearances together, and they have all been wonderful. She continues to teach Buddhist studies; "Awakening Joy" is her particular area of interest, and she is a master at teaching it. Patricia is a lifelong seeker of the truth, and she has just returned from a week at Burning Man with her son and large group of friends; at age 70+ she was thrilled and delighted with the experience.

It has been a great joy for me personally to become close to the Ellsbergs, which I didn't feel I could do until the film was completed. They continue to inspire me. When I first sat down with Dan and Patricia to show them the fine cut of the film, Patricia held my hand and whispered, "it's a masterpiece." Dan was thrilled and proceeded to send me a 22-page single-spaced memo with corrections needed — almost all of which were spot on.

POV: What did you think of the Afghan War Diary and its release on WikiLeaks and in newspapers? Can you compare the Afghan War Diary with the Pentagon Papers?

Ehrlich: I am inspired by the idea of WikiLeaks and have reservations about its implementation. In fact, I just returned from Iceland where I began production on a film on WikiLeaks and the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a national policy that, when fully realized, will make Iceland a free zone for whistleblowers and journalists.

The Afghan War Diary is not the fully analyzed look inside American war policy that the Pentagon Papers were; it is primarily a massive dump of secret information. I think the idea of WikiLeaks is more about letting the powers that be know that it may become harder to keep secret that which their citizens have the right to know. Now it is up to WikiLeaks or others like them to be selective, work with journalists to find the stories among the documents, and share them with readers and viewers who deserve better information than they are getting from an embedded press, as well as governments and corporations around the world who have become accustomed to keeping secrets from the people who have a right to know.

Goldsmith: The Afghan War Diary, and the army video a month or two earlier of the attack on a van in Iraq which killed several, including two Reuters correspondents, both of which came from WikiLeaks, were very akin to the Pentagon Papers leak and publication. All three leaks (including the Pentagon Papers) focused public attention on the brutal (rather than sanitized) reality of wars, providing information that the U.S. public urgently needed to make assessments and decisions about those wars. And all three exposed the status quo of government secrecy, lies and propaganda which have been used throughout our history to ensure that the American public both supports current wars and is primed to support future war ventures, no matter how misguided they may be.

Until and unless the kinds of pictures and accounts of war revealed in the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks become commonplace in the media — or now, perhaps, on the internet — instead of exceptions to the rule, we will continue to behave as a militaristic country that chooses war as a first, rather than last, resort to solving difficult foreign relations problems.

POV: Describe the reception to The Most Dangerous Man in America among audiences across the country.

Goldsmith: The reception to Most Dangerous Man has been wildly enthusiastic, among old and young alike. People over 55 or 60 have memories of the events, but comment on how new and fresh the information and narrative of our film was to them. Young audiences, particularly high school and college-age audiences, say, "Wow, I didn't know this kind of thing existed back then," referring to the massive government deception and the bold and courageous actions of Ellsberg, the anti-war movement and the press. Audiences instantly "got" that this film is not so much about the past as it is about the present.

Ehrlich: It's been an amazing ride. We've won awards from Brazil and Australia to Tel Aviv and Amsterdam and across the U.S. I have been humbled by the response. I think this film gives people of all ages courage to tell the truth in their own lives and to want to know more about the examples of courageous individuals who have stood up and accepted the consequences of acting on the basis of conscience.

POV: You received an Academy Award nomination for the film. Congratulations! What was your reaction to the nomination? How do you see it affecting the film?

Ehrlich: It was an honor. I think it has certainly expanded the reach of the film. The nomination puts a unique and important stamp of approval on the film, which opens doors and means that many more people have seen it and hopefully will see it on the POV broadcast and streaming to follow.

POV: What are you working on now?

Goldsmith: I have several projects in the hopper, most having to do with themes I've dealt with before in my films: journalism, this country's tendency to go to war, political activism, young people trying to make a difference. No one project has risen to the top of the pile yet... We'll see.

Ehrlich: I just returned from Iceland, where I began production on a film on WikiLeaks and the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a national policy that, when fully realized, will make Iceland a free zone for whistleblowers and journalists. I am working with a new partner and we are trying to combine our styles to make a new paradigm. This project was launched when I was at the Sydney Film festival with our distributor in Australia and New Zealand, who got me interested in the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, an Australian. At the same time, back in June, Bradley Manning, the military analyst accused of being the leaker of the Afghan War Diary, was arrested. Assange went underground, Dan Ellsberg became his spokesman and I was pulled into the vortex of the WikiLeaks story.

The experience of traveling the world with this film has opened up the world of documentary to me and I think this film particularly is about the new world of media which has no borders. I am interested in thinking beyond the box and learning about issues from an international perspective and sharing that with audiences.





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