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If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011)



Average Rating: 6.6/10
Critic Reviews: 15
Fresh: 12 | Rotten: 3

No consensus yet.



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Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 1,459


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Movie Info

Filmmaker Marshall Curry explores the inner workings of the Earth Liberation Front, a revolutionary movement devoted to crippling facilities involved in deforestation, while simultaneously offering a profile of Oregon ELF member Daniel McGowan, who was brought up on terrorism charges for his involvement with the radical group. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Aug 30, 2011


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All Critics (32) | Top Critics (15) | Fresh (28) | Rotten (4) | DVD (2)

It's tempting to watch If a Tree Falls doc about a scraggly group of ecoterrorists with a chip of skepticism on your shoulder. Yet the film creates a fantastic moral ambivalence.

September 7, 2011 Full Review Source: Entertainment Weekly
Entertainment Weekly
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Curry tells a compelling tale about the differences of opinion over what constitutes desperate measures, and how readily we throw around a term like terrorism.

August 12, 2011 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
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Watching it may not change anyone's ideology, but it will force you to see the players as complex people with understandable motivations.

July 28, 2011 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
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The problem is that the heart of the movie is McGowan. He's just not a very compelling figure.

July 28, 2011 Full Review Source: Boston Globe | Comment (1)
Boston Globe
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The gripping documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front offers an intimate look at the radical environmental group.

July 22, 2011 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
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Unless you are a true believer in the tenets of deep ecology, the film may seem more like an apology for the group's dangerous activities.

July 14, 2011 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
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As emotive and far-reaching as the issues involved are, this incisive feature is most potent when capturing Daniel McGowan's life and mind dismantling.

February 9, 2012 Full Review Source:

Now locked down as a terrorist in America's CMU system, ELF activist Daniel McGowan lit more than a few fires.

November 14, 2011 Full Review Source: Monsters and Critics
Monsters and Critics

The film is a fascinating look inside a little-known arm of the larger environmental movement.

October 29, 2011 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

An earnest and even-handed documentary about a naive and whiny mild-mannered thirtysomething ecology activist.

October 29, 2011 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews | Comment (1)
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Considerably more thought-provoking than expected.

August 17, 2011 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Although kind to the plights of activists who face hard time for victimless crimes, this film is balanced -- conservatives could easily interpret it as validation of the group's persecution.

July 28, 2011 Full Review Source: Boston Phoenix
Boston Phoenix

McGowan's views on the environment have taken several turns, but none of them is illustrated in the film, in which he comes off as passive and a little whiny.

July 21, 2011 Full Review Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Paul Pioneer Press

An intelligent look at civil disobedience and the official criminalization of enviros who take peaceful demonstrations one step further.

July 21, 2011 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

"If a Tree Falls" never loses sight of the human beings at the heart of the conflict -- no matter what side of the conflict they're on.

July 21, 2011 Full Review Source: Oregonian

Gets a bit bogged down in legal and procedural details during its final 30 minutes but it will, hopefully, open eyes and hearts.

July 15, 2011 Full Review Source: Movie Dearest
Movie Dearest

It serves an important purpose in calling attention to environmental issues. In today's political climate, environmentalism only gets discussed in the context of job creation or monetary savings.

June 24, 2011 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

The story of how a muscular anti-logging campaign devolved into sectarian turmoil that shot off radicalized cells like burning cinders is ultimately what drives the film and makes it so rewarding

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source:

Audience Reviews for If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

"If a Tree Falls" is an insightful documentary that could have used a little more distance from its subject, Daniel McGowan, who is facing charges of terrorism and possible life imprisonment for arson which he committed while a member of the Earth Liberation Front(ELF). What is being explored is how an activist moves from peaceful protest to more violent means of expression. As shown here, it can have something to do with being pepper sprayed during civil disobedience which is cruel on somebody intent on giving themselves up. Specific to this case is the frustration at witnessing the destruction to the forests by corporate logging. While the documentary is definitely sympathetic towards McGowan, it also talks to all sides including law enforcement and logging company executives who explain that they plant six trees for every one cut down, per law. So, maybe if they could communicate that better to the protesters, things might not be so acrimonious between the two sides.

The documentary explores another failed bit of communication which is the word terrorist and how overused it has become. As McGowan says, what he did was just property destruction, wherein nobody got hurt, even though it is inferred that the ELF was taking on more sinister aims before it shattered. So, just because a person is more afraid after being mugged, does that make it terrrorism, too?
July 18, 2012
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Informative and almost completely made up of actual footage, If A Tree Falls does a great job of capturing all sides of the argument towards clear-cutting trees, showing that the Earth Liberation Front isn't as bad as the media makes them out to be, but also showing the level-headed and compassionate loggers whom also concern themselves with the quality of land. One of the best documentaries of 2011.
January 18, 2012

Super Reviewer

It puts a deserving face on a group of people we only know by the label of 'eco-terrorist'. I can't say I personally approve of violence as a solution to any problem (even if the destruction is only of property) but it was interesting to see where the E.L.F. was coming from and why they felt their actions were necessary. Its hard to keep calling someone a 'terrorist' once you realize that they have a family and they don't appear that different from anyone else.
September 3, 2011
Alec Barniskis

Super Reviewer

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