Description from TIFF 2009 catalog by Thom Powers:
Today the name Daniel Ellsberg might draw a blank from younger people, but in the early seventies, he was all over the news for leaking the Pentagon Papers. This resulted in his being hunted by the FBI and dubbed “the most dangerous man in America.” President Nixon developed a personal obsession with the idea of destroying Ellsberg, which led to the recklessness of the Watergate scandal.
No one could have predicted this outcome in the mid-sixties, when Ellsberg was considered a golden boy working inside the Pentagon. But after visiting the front lines in Vietnam, his outlook began to change. With high-level access to government documents, he read a top-secret study of the war. The seven-thousand-page report revealed that the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson had consistently deceived the American public about Vietnam. Ellsberg felt he would perpetuate the lies unless he did something drastic.
In this thrilling account, directors Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith get the full story of Ellsberg’s dramatic change from trusted insider to vilified outsider. Even if you know pieces of this story from other sources, such as Harrison Salisbury’s excellent book Without Fear or Favor, this new telling is full of rich detail and emotional depth. Extensive interviews with Ellsberg reveal the family tragedy that shaped his character, as well as how his wife Patricia influenced his actions. The narrative is enriched by interviews with other key players, from retired New York Times editor Max Frankel to former Nixon aide John Dean. The voice of Nixon is also heard through the infamous White House audio recordings in which he speaks of Vietnam as a “shit-ass little country” and urges Henry Kissinger to consider using nuclear weapons.
At a time when newspapers have a questionable future, Ehrlich and Goldsmith offer a stirring reminder of the media’s courageous role in Ellsberg’s story. In hindsight, history has shifted to his side. This film puts us back in the moment when the risks were great and the results unclear.
About the directors:
Judith Ehrlich co-directed the ITVS documentary The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It in 2000. TheMost Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (09, co-director) is her second feature documentary.
Rick Goldsmith Rick Goldsmith has directed the documentary features Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press (96), which was nominated for an Academy Award&”174;, Everyday Heroes (01) and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (09, co-director).
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