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Genuinely troubling at a complicated stance with immorality remains intact on both sides of the environmentally protective and endangering argument by the purposefully misunderstanding exposure in the media's role that triggers the reflective redefining of questioned actions being far from terrorism despite the inferno appearance towards a more moral cause due to the ignored initially peaceful alternative. (B+)
(Full review TBD)
It's hard not to be fascinated by If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. Imagine coming to work on a seemingly normal day and then seeing the quiet guy down the hall get arrested by the feds on terrorism charges. That's what happened to the wife of filmmaker Marshall Curry, who decided to turn his lens on this man and tell his story.
There's this really interesting subtext throughout the film regarding what a terrorist really is. Should someone who burned down a few buildings face life plus 300 years in prison? Or does the label have more to do with one's set of beliefs, the reasons behind his or her actions, and not the results of these actions? The film frames this philosophical debate around the aforementioned quiet guy (or the "disgruntled one" as some of his "terrorist" friends called him). And it's a puzzler. I still don't know how I feel about Daniel McGowan's beliefs and crimes, but I loved his story and found it monumentally compelling.
For a time, the Earth Liberation Front (or ELF) was considered the largest homegrown terrorist organization in America. Its motto: Protect all life on Earth. Its method: Set fire to companies they consider threats to the environment. Yes, it's extreme, and the former members interviewed for the film will be the first admit it. But as their story shows, traditional forms of non-violent protesting is toothless in situations like this, and when one feels powerless, the easiest way to grab some power is to make your enemies pay attention. That's what the ELF did in the 90s, and that's why Daniel McGowan and his friends went to prison.
The filmmakers stay pretty much hands-off here, which is very much appreciated. They interview several federal officials, as well as businessmen who lost property at the hands of McGowan and company, to make sure it's a two-sided affair. Really, the entire ELF saga has a ton of gray area, so there's really no need to preach, and they don't.
There's not much of a stylistic identity going on here, which I guess is OK, but the film loses points for its very obvious and distracting music cues. Beyond that, however, there's little to object to. It's just a very interesting story told well, and it has a ton of subtext for you to chew on-from the terrorist question to Daniel's arguably foolish decision to get married to the crazy ironic twist that leads to his eventual arrest. This is an exceptional doc, and coupled with Under Fire: Journalists in Combat and Bill Cunningham New York, it's part of a very strong shortlist for this year's Oscar.
Watching If A Tree Falls probably won't change anyone's ideology of the Earth Liberation Front's actions. But I gives us a great insight into the lives of those responsible, as well as those affected by the 'supposed' terrorist organisation. I'm giving IF A TREE FALLS a 4.5/5
Or The One Where You Fall In Love With Radicals...
Directors Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman do a great job of crafting a story about radical environmental activist group, Earth Liberation Front, that makes you sympathize with arsonists. As the story unfolds you still see their actions as extreme, but you begin to understand how things went so far. Eventually the story becomes a story about one man's struggle to not fall into despair, and that's when the film really shines. As Curry and Cullman capture the trial of one of the members of the ELF, you begin to really care for him. It definitely is entertaining and educational, but it also is emotionally captivating.
A fascinating & insightful Documentary about a subject I knew very little about & generally found that environmental culture interesting.
The story of the ELF: Earth Liberation Front and the individuals that have destroyed many buildings that have affected the environment.
It's takes a personal look at these people & their inspirations & why they do what they did. This film does leave you conflicted but I understand why they did what they did.
If A Tree Falls is powerful, eye-opening, and unbiased account of what is being labeled as "ecoterrorism". It remains engaging throughout and doesn't search for the easy answers.
Thought provoking docu on environmental "lets better not call it" terrorism but activism that turn radical. You are left to take sides.
"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." The story of one member of the Earth Liberation Front: his background, his motivations, his actions, and his sentence. Is he a terrorist or is he a freedom fighter? You decide. Watch the movie. Let me know your thoughts.
People who want to save the world should not be send to prison. They should be put to work at summer camps teaching kids how to build a good tree fort.
What are the criteria for being a terrorist? What should be the criteria for a being a terrorist? Is an environmentalist who burns down the empty office of a logging company in the middle of the night comparable to crimes committed by people like Timothy McVeigh or Osama bin Laden? Is this crime to be put on the same legal shelf as those who fly planes into skyscrapers and kill thousands of people? Ask any three people and you are likely to get three different answers, after all, the people you ask probably aren't the ones going to prison for it.
Marshall Curry's documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front begins by showing us some acts of "eco-terrorism", acts in which radical environmentalists whose peaceful protests have fallen on deaf ears and turned up the heat by setting fires to lumber mills, wild horse corrals, SUV dealerships and meat packing plants. They were called The Earth Liberation Front - or E.L.F. - unorganized group of radicals willing to cause millions of dollars in property damage in the name of keeping corporate America from destroying the planet. The knee-jerk reaction, of course, is to dismiss these individuals as a bunch of over-zealous ya-hoos who just enjoy watching things burn. Yet, the film is something more, as we watch it, we are taken into the lives of some of the members of the E.L.F. and begin to understand what they are fighting for. That leads to questions of whether or not their legal prosecution is really fair.
The E.L.F. get the attention of, not only their targets, but the F.B.I. who quickly labels the group as "The number one domestic terrorist threat" and launches a full-scale investigation of the individuals involved, an investigation that resembles in many ways the F.B.I.'s investigation of the mafia 50 years ago.
What is interesting is that even while we don't agree with what the E.L.F. is doing, the film gives us images that allow us to understand their point of view. We see footage of trees that have stood for thousands of years, blindly cut down. We see horse mills, with hundreds of dead horses hung from the ceiling. We see the heartbreaking sight of a group of legendary trees sawed down to make a parking lot.
We see the protesters themselves, camped out in the trees that are to be cut down, beaten and maced unmercifully by the local police. In a scene that resembles the riots of the 1960s, we see members of the E.L.F. with their faces covered marching into the streets and then beaten and clubbed. The irony is that the members of the group who are clearly guilty of vandalism haven't done any physical harm to other human beings but are being beaten down by law enforcement as if they were murderers.
Let us make no mistake, what the E.L.F doing is wrong, unlawful and is deserving a punshinment by law, and yes, jail time. The point is that this film questions the severity of the extent of that punishment. Curry's film moves very deeply into that very question and wonders about the fate of Daniel McGowen, whose story provides the film's bookends, goes under house arrest in his sister's home until his trial in which it will be decided what kind of jail time he will do for the crime of arson. He seems like a nice kid with a sweet voice, somewhere in his mid-20s who smiles a lot, but has eyes that are much more thoughtful, focused and intelligent than most kids his age. When he goes to trial and receives his sentence, we aren't surprised that it is harsh. What does surprise us is the information that McGowan is now going to spend the rest of his life on the government's terrorist watchdog list. Why? His crime, at best, results in malicious vandalism. Why a life sentence on the same list as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the architect of the 9/11 attacks?