Behind the scenes of ‘The Most Dangerous Man’ 

Derided in 1971 by then-President Richard Nixon as a man who “gave aid and comfort to the enemy … putting himself above the president of the United States, above Congress, above our whole system of government” by revealing a top-secret Pentagon study of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, former policy adviser and ex-Marine Daniel Ellsberg has had his remarkable story brought to the big screen in Rick Goldsmith and Judith Ehrlich’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Most Dangerous Man in America.”

That Goldsmith, who previously produced and directed another Oscar-nominated documentary — “Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press” (1996), also featuring Ellsberg — wound up collaborating with Ehrlich, who grew up in Napa and currently teaches documentary film at Berkeley City College, is the result of a fortuitous coincidence.

Inspired in part by Ellsberg’s 2002 book, “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers,” Ehrlich had been planning a movie about the onetime Cold Warrior turned outspoken pacifist but realized she didn’t want to make it alone.

So she began roaming the hallways of the Saul Zaentz Media Center in Berkeley, searching for a prospective partner.

“We’d been working down the hall from one another, and we knew about each other but we’d never worked together,” she says of Goldsmith. “There are 40 documentary filmmakers on that floor, and I randomly walked into Rick’s office to see if he had any interest. He pulled out a huge file on Ellsberg.”

Goldsmith, who has lived and worked in the Bay Area since 1975, was already taken by the story of Ellsberg, now 78, who lives in Northern California and remains an activist to this day. But he and Ehrlich needed Ellsberg’s cooperation to tell it.

“There were three other people talking to him about a movie, and it took a lot of arm-twisting to get him on board,” she says.

“I think it was because we have a lot of mutual friends who vouched for us — peace activists. I was a peace activist for many years, and I think that convinced him that we would get at the story of great conscience that’s at the heart of the film.”

“This is a story about serious business — war and peace, social justice,” adds Goldsmith. “It’s about a man taking a stand and doing what’s right in the face of incredible pressure. That was the story we needed to tell — not just the story of Dan, but the story of this amazing risk he took that affected the history of a nation.”

The Most Dangerous Man in America:
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg, Patricia Marx Ellsberg, Anthony Russo, Hedrick Smith
Written by Lawrence Lerew, Rick Goldsmith, Judith Ehrlich, Michael Chandler
Directed by Judith Ehrlich, Rick Goldsmith
Not rated
Running time 1 hour 34 minutes

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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