# Link to “If A Tree Falls” film website.
From News in Film. Jeff Leins.
Yesterday, Marshall Curry’s eco-terrorism documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front was named as part of the Oscar shortlist, a narrowed round of fifteen docs that represent what the Academy considers the year’s “best.”
In February, the Academy anointed Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job as 2010’s top doc, and it became a source of information and inspiration to thousands of American protesters currently “occupying” Wall Street and other cities.
The issues in Curry’s film are vastly different (the environment instead of the economy), but it’s difficult not to think of the ongoing “Occupy” movement when footage from the late ’90s shows rows of non-violent protesters taking to the streets arm-in-arm, or citizens doused in pepper spray by the police as they occupied an endangered tree, like those yesterday who sat in peaceful protest.
But Curry’s compelling film diverges at the first sign of violence. Without perceived results, a new environmental organization formed, bent on producing enough property damage to make their point instead. The Earth Liberation Front (or E.L.F.), an underground, organized group of like-minded anarchists, represented by a logo of a tree that grew into an angry fist. Their methods were (and still are) radical and felonious, so they kept hidden, and their all-important exposure was handled by a third-party PR team who didn’t know their identities.
Curry puts faces to the movement, specifically Daniel McGowan, an E.L.F. member arrested in connection with a series of large-scale arsons committed in 2001, just months before the terrorist attacks of September 11. McGowan, a mild-mannered young man who looks like Ricky Gervais, seems unrepentant on house arrest, facing life in prison for torching multi-million dollar logging facilities and the cooperation of his former conspirators. He insists the issue is “more complex” than what the media machine dubbed “eco-terrorism.
McGowan recounts his involvement, how he was swept up in a post-university movement after witnessing abuse of our planet, while Curry plots the anecdotes along a dangerous escalation. Ephemera tracks McGowan’s early recycling days to his lawful public protests to joining a trained resistance organization that turned demonstrations into veritable “war zones” and a $12 million ski lodge in Vail, Colorado into ashes.
Tim, a fellow activist and documentarian, describes McGowan as “the disgruntled one” and the backstory of the battle lines in the logging town of Eugene, Oregon. He explains how “monkey wrenching,” or sabotaging heavy equipment, was taught and began a culture of justification that broadened and intensified, until it became the largest domestic terrorism case in U.S. history.
Ultimately, Curry’s balanced documentary uses a story of the Earth Liberation Front to ask rhetorically, “How do we define terrorism in America?” But Daniel McGowan’s arson case becomes a timely example, and possible cautionary tale, of how non-violent protests like “Occupy” can escalate under increased pressure from authorities.
Torrent file (thepiratebay):