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



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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

Rating: Unrated
Genre: Documentary, Special Interest
Directed By: ,
Written By: Marshall Curry, Matthew Hamachek
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 30, 2011
Box Office: $61.2k
Oscilloscope - Official Site

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

All Critics (32) | Top Critics (15)

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.

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | August 12, 2011
Washington Post
Top Critic

Watching it may not change anyone's ideology, but it will force you to see the players as complex people with understandable motivations.

Full Review… | July 28, 2011
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic

The problem is that the heart of the movie is McGowan. He's just not a very compelling figure.

Full Review… | July 28, 2011
Boston Globe
Top Critic

The gripping documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front offers an intimate look at the radical environmental group.

Full Review… | July 22, 2011
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | July 14, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

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?

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.

Christopher Haskell

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.

Alec Barniskis
Alec Barniskis

Super Reviewer

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