March 6, 2010

DocuDays LA, Day 1: Activism Takes Center Stage

If there was a theme to 2010 DocuDays L.A.'s first night it was activism.

The two films which screened at the three-day, multi-city event focused on individuals who stood up for what they believed in, even if it meant facing off against a larger and seemingly-insurmountable foe. (See pictures from the night here and here on our Flickr pages.)

The first movie of the night, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, tells the story of former war planner Daniel Ellsberg and how his decision to leak 7,000 pages of a top secret Pentagon report to the New York Times helped stop the Vietnam War. It was followed by The Cove, which follows Louie Psihoyos, renown dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry and a special ops team which infiltrates a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose an annual dolphin slaughter and Mercury poisoning to the Japanese people.

When taking the stage for post-screening Q&As, both sets of filmmakers were met with standing ovations.

Daniel Ellsberg and Judith Ehrlich discuss The Most Dangerous Man in America. Photo by Josh Weiss (

Dangerous Man's co-director/producer Judith Ehrlich, who appeared with co-director/producer Rick Goldsmith and Daniel Ellsberg and his wife Patricia was clearly touched by the enthusiastic welcome and choked up when she acknowledged it.

Ellsberg, still very much an active activist, was asked about the similarities to America's involvement in Vietnam then and Iraqi and Afghanistan now. "We are rather easily manipulated into violence by our leaders," he said. But believes we have it in us to change. One way may be to have politicians watch the film, which champions those brave enough to risk all in the name of exposing the truth. "If it's seen by officials in Washington, it can encourage people to undertake the acts of truth telling what will end this longest war--'Vietnamistan.'"

Of course you'd have to get it to them. Joking that high-ranking officials don't read anything unless it's labeled Top Secret, Goldsmith said, "We just have to label the DVD 'Top Secret.'"

(L-R) Judith Ehrlich, Daniel Ellsberg, Patricia Ellsberg and Rick Goldsmith from The Most Dangerous Man in America. Photo by Josh Weiss (

Even though his name is in the film's title, Ellsberg pointed out that he was one link in a very important chain and gave credit to the others who had the moral courage to follow his lead. "In making this film," said Goldsmith, "We learned that courage is contagious."

That quote can be applied to the story of The Cove as well. Because of his concern over the dolphin slaughter in Japan, Ric O'Barry enlisted Psihoyos and a team of experts to expose the secrets of the area. Appearing by himself last night, Psihoyos gave an update on how The Cove is enacting change.

The movie screened at the Tokyo Film Festival and now has distribution in Japan. The town of Taijii was mandated to get tested for Mercury poisoning--and found astoundingly high levels of it in the population. Just last week, the national government stopped the killing of dolphins in the cove depicted in the movie, which Psihoyos called a "qualified win" because the activity continues about a half-mile away. "But to me that's good news, he said."It's like Hitler has gone to his bunker."

Louie Psihoyos (L) discusses The Cove. Photo by Josh Weiss (

Psihoyos called his film a "love letter" to the people of Japan. Because during the making of the film, Psihoyos, a Pescetarian, discovered that he had high levels of Mercury in his system. "I'm giving you information that your own government won't give you," he said.

Psihoyos explained that his next project will "bring across that realization that you know what we're not the only species on this planet that matters" and that while members of his Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) have been in town for Oscars preparation, celebrations and activities, they've also secretly been using their talents working with federal agents at night for…something. "You have no idea," he said. "I would love to tell a story tonight that I realize I can't…but stay tuned to your papers in the next couple of days, it's going to be interesting."

Psihoyos gave a nod to The Most Dangerous Man in America and his other Oscar "competitors." "It's an amazing film, with a great social message. People try to talk about these films being competitors. I hang out at these dinners with the producers and directors and I don't feel competitive, I feel like collaborators. We're on the same team."

 The Oceanic Preservation Society crew. 

"I'm hoping that this movie is a form of activism," he continued. "Once people see it, then I would imagine that nobody in this audience is going to go to Sea World again. And you'll probably tell your friends to do the same thing. And maybe hopefully go home and Facebook to your friends and say that you saw this incredible movie go see it. That's a form of activism. It's not about us, it's about you guys."

"If this movie teaches anybody anything, I hope it's that one person can change the world and a few us of together can make a huge difference."