If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, B+
The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is the name of an organization that sabotages different operations that supposedly exploit or harm the environment. If a Tree Falls is an objective journalistic effort from Marshall Curry that examines the scintillating moral dilemmas that result. One among many questions it asks is whether or not the Earth Liberation Front members are domestic terrorists. The film focuses on ELF member Daniel McGowan, who grew up a normal suburban teen; he began his life of environmental activism after having his eyes opened to the atrocities man commits on its environment and fellow animals.
It’s hard to choose what among the many topics to discuss. This is because this film is impressively impartial; I think the viewer can tell that Curry and his crew were figuring out their opinions on the issues as the filming took place. In fact, he first was acquainted with the situation when his wife came home from work and told him that four Federal agents arrested one of her employees for “eco-terrorism.” The curiosity resulting from the assumption that “terrorists” don’t look like Daniel McGowan birthed this film.
Curry asked, "How had someone like him found himself facing life in prison for terrorism? Was it accurate to use the word “terrorism” to describe property destruction in which no one was hurt? What was this shadowy group, the ELF? How had it formed and why? What could make someone decide that arson was a reasonable response to environmental problems? Sam Cullman (Cinematographer/Co-director) and I decided to find out.“
After this film, we still don’t have any clear answers; however, the process of examination is fascinating. I was humbled by this documentary, and perhaps even enlightened. The most important question I faced was whether we really have any power in this country. After all, Daniel and the ELF were fighting for the right to have a voice, and they were definitely denied that right at times in Oregon. Did they make a lot of errors? Yes. Do they deserve to be in jail? Probably. However, the reason they were pushed over the edge is not craziness or irrationality. Some of the most shocking questions you’ll be asking yourself after this movie are whether you’d have done the same, and whether you should have.
The film premiered in competition at Sundance Film Festival 2011, where it won the Documentary Editing Award. It also won Best Documentary at the Nashville Film Festival and Environmental Visions Award at the Dallas Film Festival.