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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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. According to its mission statement this unique filmfest’s goal is: “bringing awareness and to open eyes to some of our world’s pressing issues: Ecological, Political, Health/Well Being and the Spirit. We showcase both Documentary and Narrative Features, as well as Short Films, Music Videos and Public Service Announcements.​ We have filmmaker Q&A’s, filmmaker Panels, as well as conscious art and music.​​​​​ The Awareness Film Festival was formed by Heal One World, a non-profit charity. This Festival is also a fundraiser for Heal One World​​" (

According to AFF’s website, other films screened at the Awareness Film Festival include: In the "Mercy for Animals Film Block": Poachers Pipeline, a 47 minute piece wherein Al Jazeera exposes the criminal syndicates behind the illegal trade of one of the world’s most valuable substances– rhino horn. (See:


Operation Jeedara, (46 minutes): In 2010 BP was responsible for the world’s largest oil spill in the Gulf Of Mexico. Over several months, the rig spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the ocean, killing millions of animals and destroying the surrounding environment.

Less than a year later, the Australian Government signed papers allowing BP to come to Australia and drill in deeper and rougher seas.

In 2016 The Great Australian Bight Alliance announced the launch of “Operation Jeedara” – a campaign that would see the “Steve Irwin” sail into the heart of the Great Australian Bight to document the beauty of the region in order to showcase what we would all stand to lose if we let BP drill there.

This film is the story of the campaign, that showcases one of the world’s great and grand intact marine wilderness areas on the planet, one of the world’s most significant southern right whale nurseries and one of the biggest environmental wins for 2016. (See:


There is a "Force of Nature Film Block" (see below) plus a "Water is Elemental Film Block." Stay Alive is part music video and part factual. In it, popular Caribbean musicians express their experiences with tropical storms and rising seas by composing and performing songs about climate change, and their visions of how to confront it. Intertwined throughout the film are insights by scientists and local climate experts expressing how a temperature rise of just 1.5 degrees could lead to irreversible damage to ecosystems. The film visits Belize, Costa Rica, Trinidad + Tobago, Haiti, Miami and Louisiana. These regions are examples of how rising climate temperatures affect tropical storms and rising seas in their area.


People of the Forest: Orang Rimba is a 14 minute short about the ancestral forests of the nomadic Orang Rimba have vanished. In the short span of three decades oil palm plantations have replaced much of the tropical peatland rain forests in Jambi, Indonesia. The People of the Forest, Orang Rimba in their dialect, have nowhere to go. A group of families talks and shows their daily and long-term struggles for survival in an era that seems to have left their idyllic past behind.

Bison Nation-Walking Sacred Sites: We are still here. This is our story, the story of the bison, who inhabit the Northern Hemisphere. You might also know us as buffalo, tatanka, zubr, wisent, basha, Inii, ethanon, tatanga, Wisent… It is a comical story, because sometimes we are caught in politics, colonialism or religion. It is a story of disconnection and destruction as well as a story of hope, resilience, beauty, interconnectedness, return and reunion. We are walking sacred sites because we take care of our biggest sacred site: The Earth (49 minutes).


To watch a trailer of Paying The Price For Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson & Voices From The Peace Movement see: To watch the entire film go to:


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: