If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front – Review and Trailer

If A Tree Falls, by documentarian Marshall Curry, is a fantastic documentary of inquiry with many questions asked and few answered.

The topic of discussion is the infamous Earth Liberation Front, a group considered to be a “domestic terrorist” group by the FBI.  The film investigates their creation amidst the chaos of the Pacific Northwest in the 90’s, with the black bloc and environmentalist protests often coming to violent clashes alongside the noticeably brutal police; their heyday, as they bombed various buildings and succeeded in not causing any deaths, while causing destruction; and their fizzling out to relative obscurity.  It also discusses the basic functions of the group, how they were discovered and tracked, and so on.

The focus of the film surrounds one particular man, Daniel McGowan, a member of the ELF who participated in several of their activities, during his trial until his eventual incarceration. In this way it becomes much more personal than if it tried to envisage everyone.

As the film goes along, we must examine various questions which are certainly as relevant today as they were in the prime of the ELF, in a day of occupational protest and a worldwide war on the concept of terrorism. Questions such as: how should the police deal with a protest? What are the outcomes to their behavior? What is terrorism – must it include the murder of human beings? If both are forms of terrorism, should they be dealt with the same way (as they are now?)

In this sense, it s a fantastic film.  One must not think that this means the film is objective – it certainly isn’t, although it is much less pointedly subjective than many other topical documentaries.  Its subjectivity is merely all over the map – no one is good, no one is evil, but there are certain things which do not make sense and should be discussed.

As a part of the discussion, If A Tree Falls should be viewed.  It’s thought-provoking, reasonable, and an overall great film.

UPDATE: Since this review has been published, the film has been well-deservedly nominated for an Oscar. Good luck, Mr. Curry!


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