MOVIES/Ed Rampell

Profile in Pacifist Courage: The Railroading of the Other Brian Willson

“In America, if you say ‘Brian Wilson,’ people think the Beach Boys, but in Nicaragua if you say ‘Brian Willson,’ people think of the peace activist,” said Frank Dorrel, Associate Producer of Paying The Price For Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson & Voices From The Peace Movement. Dorrel made his comments at a Q&A following a screening of the 97-minute documentary, which was screened at the LA Live Regal Cinema 14 as part of the 8th annual Awareness Film Festival, which took place Oct. 5-15.

As Bo Boudart’s award-winning nonfiction film recounts, what made the other Brian Willson so prominent is the Vietnam vet’s commitment to the cause of peace, culminating in an enormous sacrifice, which this plot spoiler adverse critic won’t ruin for you. (Let’s just say he was railroaded…) Yes, as the title indicates, Willson paid an unimaginable price for peace, but this documentary is also about the antiwar movement. Although Boudart’s sprawling film focuses on Willson, it is also a compendium of the struggle for peace from the Vietnam War to the bloody US intervention in Central America up to the ongoing armed conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.

As such, in addition to Willson himself, other notables of the antiwar movement from the 1960s until now are also featured in archival, news and original interviews and footage. These stalwarts include:

Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers noteworthiness; Ron Kovic, who was depicted by Tom Cruise in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July; Roy Bourgeois of the School of the Americas Watch; CODEPINK’s intrepid Medea Benjamin; KPFK’s Blase Bonpane; actor/activist Martin Sheen; author Alice Walker; Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodman; former US Attorney General-turned-activist Ramsey Clark; soldier-turned-war resister Camila Mejia; TV talk show host Phil Donahue; Col. Ann Wright, a high-ranking officer who resigned from the State Department to protest the Iraq invasion; author/blogger David Swanson, co-creator of the After Downing Street website; whistle blower Chelsea Manning; Sandinista rebel and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega; anti-Iraq War mom Cindy Sheehan; etc.

As Ken Burns’ recent Vietnam War PBS series reminded us, no motion picture dealing with that conflict is complete without a rocking soundtrack, and Paying The Price is no exception (although unlike Burns’ opus, Boudart’s independently funded doc wasn’t financed by a Koch brother and Bank of America). The nonfiction film includes songs by Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Barry McGuire.

In chronicling the US peace movement for about half a century, Paying The Price performs an invaluable service. I can’t think of any other comparable documentary that provides as comprehensive an overview as Boudart’s well-made if a bit unwieldy picture (as is its longwinded title is, too) does. However, the doc doesn’t ask this all-important question: Why is the anti-war movement so small and relatively weak compared to its heyday during the Indochina Wars?

With Trump rattling nuclear sabers at the DPRK (North Korea) and provoking Pyongyang with dubious war games, why aren’t masses of protesters filling the streets and storming the White House to prevent this madness? During the aforementioned post-screening talkback at the Regal Cinema 14 a questioner put his finger on what may be the biggest difference between then and now: Elimination of the younger generation’s primary impetus – the draft per se. This was one of the great triumphs of the anti-war crusade. But minus compulsory service, military deployment has fallen on the shoulders of a handful of mercenaries, desperate for any kind of employment (even if it gets them blown to smithereens in the process).

Nevertheless, Boudart’s doc, narrated by Peter Coyote (who also did the narration for Burns’ Vietnam series), is essential viewing for everyone concerned with issues of war and peace – as we all should be. After Brian Willson’s unbelievable act of courage to stop the imperialist Contra wars in Central America, Nicaragua’s first lady, the poet Rosario Murillo, visited him in the hospital and today Willson lives in Nicaragua, where he is rightfully hailed as the hero he is.

Paying The Price For Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson & Voices From The Peace Movement won the Grand Jury Documentary Feature Award at the Awareness Film Festival, which was formed by Heal One World, a non-profit charity (

To watch a trailer of Paying The Price For Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson & Voices From The Peace Movement, see:

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film critic/historian and co-organizer of the Oct. 27 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist (see: https://www.generosity .com/fundraising/hollywood-blacklist-tribute).

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652