If A Tree Falls: The Story Of The Earth Liberation Front

If A Tree Falls: The Story Of The Earth Liberation Front

Directed by: Marshall Curry
85 minutes

New England Premiere


No one who encountered Daniel McGowan in the street would likely imagine him to be any sort of threat, let alone a terrorist; his demeanor is calm, affable, and good-humored. Yet on December 7, 2005, McGowan was one of six people whom the FBI arrested on such charges as arson and domestic terrorism—all suspected affiliates of the loosely organized Earth Liberation Front (ELF), an underground environmental movement that has gained notoriety for activism through “economic sabotage.”

On the one hand, IF A TREE FALLS is a story of McGowan: his love of the earth, his mounting disillusionment with mankind’s industrial trajectory, and the people and events that fanned his inner activist flame. On the other, it is the more slippery story of the ELF movement: its likely origins in Eugene, OR; its members’ often physical clashes with law enforcement; and the early, ineffective protest campaigns that served to radicalize the increasingly frustrated participants. Common to both stories is an examination of the point at which the subjects began to lose control—of their message, their methods, and their own destinies.

Director Marshall Curry has gained extraordinary access to individuals on all sides of the radical-environmentalism debate, deftly depicting the ELF’s almost equal abilities to empower and to devastate. Asking us to reexamine the meanings of such words as activism, terrorism, right, and wrong, IF A TREE FALLS is a richly textured look at a complex and often-distorted issue—and of the seemingly endless ripples that human actions can create.

—Sandra L. Frey