Critical Acclaim for ‘If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front’ – Airs 9/13 on PBS

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

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

premieres Sept. 13, 2011 on POV

Read what critics have to say about If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, a documentary that explores two of America’s most pressing issues — environmentalism and terrorism…

“One of the best documentaries of the year. (Critic’s Choice)”
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times



“The film’s sobriety and carefully balanced arguments make it an exemplary piece.”
Stephen Holden, The New York Times

“A compelling doc about radical environmentalism… informative, compelling.”
Justin Lowe, Hollywood Reporter

“Engaging… The film addresses thorny issues surrounding deforestation, dissent and civil (and uncivil) disobedience in the post-9/11 era.”
Anthony Kaufman, Speakeasy blog, The Wall Street Journal

“A gimlet-eyed glimpse into the roots of terrorism and the politics behind its prosecution… Curry provides a concise, temperate but penetrating history of how the ELF came to be… the footage Curry collects has to be seen to be believed…Curry lays out the strategies of the ELF with precision and clarity, abetted by handsome animation and terrific ancillary players.”
John Anderson, Variety

“A great film for anyone who likes to think about some of the most important, difficult issues of our time.”
Rick Marianetti, Examiner.com

“The gripping documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earht Liberation Front offers an intimate look at the radical environmental group… Packs… visceral punch.”
Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times

“One of the more personal and intimate environmental docs in recent memory… It’s a powerful tale; one guaranteed to generate heated discussion.”
Steve Ramos, Box Office Magazine

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front lifts the veil on a radical environmental group the FBI calls America’s “number one domestic terrorism threat.” Daniel McGowan, a former member of the Earth Liberation Front, faces life in prison for two multimillion-dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies. What turned this working-class kid from Queens into an eco-warrior? Marshall Curry (Oscar-nominated Street Fight, POV 2005) provides a nuanced and provocative account that is part coming-of-age story, part cautionary tale and part cops-and-robbers thriller.

Watch If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, premiering on PBS, Tuesday, September 13, 2011, at 10 PM. (Check local listings.)

POV Staff
POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.
  • DonBourgo

    Yes this film promotes these nuts.  These people should never get out of jail.  I grew up in the west and I certainly agree that some nut from New York has no standing on an ecological subject.  Yes these people are all terrorists. 

    Don Bourgo

    • Nosmo King

      You obviously drank the corporate kool-aid

      • DYNAVTWIN

        and there it is!!!!! you don’t agree with Don’s opinion so you ATTACK!!! are you going to burn his house down because you disagree with him?

  • John Duggan

    While there was much of value in this well intentioned film I can not in good conscience recommend anything with so annoying a sound track. If I mention it to anyone it will simply be to discourage them from watching it. Too bad as no sound track is much better than a terrible one. 

    • Adelaidemarie

      i am sorry to hear u are so easily discouraged from spreading a message that is So important to HuManity. reminds me of nazi germany where ‘the people’ turn blind eyes to horror becasue……they didn’t like the music?

  • Bob Orr

    It’s a story about people doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. 
    Investigate the environmental damage we’re doing as a culture and as a race, and it will make you depressed, sad, sickened, and even angry. 

    We as consumers drive the demand for the destruction (Planting new trees lessens the environmental impact, it by no means takes the old growth forest’s place for several hundred or thousand years).  If you want things to look into, search for Dead Coral, North Pacific Gyre, Mercury in Fish, Old Growth Forest Biodiversity, etc.

    I do not approve of the E.L.F. ‘s methods, but really whether you think they are terrorists or not is irrelevant. 

    What is important is that step by step, we are encroaching and poisoning food chains and ecosystems that are the only thing supporting our lives on this planet.  We may not be alive when they finally collapse, but is facing something like that a fate you would wish on your children or grand-children?

  • Katy

    “If A Tree Falls” offers great insight into the pitfalls of idealism and how young people try to come to terms with their frustration when faced with the destruction of the planet by greed, uber-consumption and allowing ownership of natural resources by corporate concerns.  As an older person, I can’t reconcile what the ELF group did and I can’t see that arson could ever be productive BUT I do find that the film reconfirmed my belief that our only hope for the planet will be realized by young people.  There are certainly lessons to be learned here….and the documentary presents an excellent overview of how movements are shaped, reshaped, and goals and outcomes are reconsidered over time.  AND I totally appreciate the quality of the reportage and hope that we learn from our mistakes and figure out better ways to communicate our outrage and work for reform.  Thanks for promoting and presenting this fine work. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_L4BE63DB5DOCC2HYCZNXHBRDA4 M O

    Youthful idealism vs adult cynicism, morality vs authority,
    freedom vs imprisonment, money vs things that money can’t buy, brutish,
    violent enforcement vs principled outrage, clan strength vs
    self-interest, ignorant lackey vs thoughtful individual, eden vs humans.
    It’s all there in the best documentary of the

    year.

    So glad PBS broadcast
    it. To those who attack Daniel McGowan as soft, that’s part of the
    point. The guy is NOT a terrorist, he’s an activist citizen who came
    from suburban America and was violated into extreme behavior by the
    extreme behavior he saw perpetrated around him. Despite those confusing
    humanity for weakness, he’s still got more guts than any film critic or
    couch jockey. The guy is the closest thing America has produced to a
    real thorn in authority’s side. I didn’t know the guy before I saw the
    film, and he’s a freshly minted hero to me now, so that says plenty
    about him and the film.

    And to the FBI investigator
    who half-heartedly apologizes in the film…your pathetic rationales
    don’t mean much to a guy locked in a US terror prison. Go prosecute the
    real criminals you’ve toadyed to.

    The film should have covered a bit more background on who really started all the unsustainable logging in the West – wall st corporate raiders who bought many of the logging companies in the West, and ‘liquidated assets’ (cut down all their trees) for the quickest buck. So once again, the 80s, Ronald Reagan, right-wing greed, and the much-ballyhooed deregulated ‘free market system’ come into focus.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_L4BE63DB5DOCC2HYCZNXHBRDA4 M O

    Youthful idealism vs adult cynicism, morality vs authority, freedom vs imprisonment, money vs things that money can’t buy, brutish, violent enforcement vs principled outrage, clan strength vs self-interest, ignorant lackey vs thoughtful individual, eden vs humans.

    It’s all there in the best documentary of the year. So glad PBS broadcast it. To those who attack Daniel McGowan as a ‘whiner’, that’s part of the point. The guy is NOT a terrorist, he’s an activist citizen who came from suburban America and was violated into extreme behavior by the extreme behavior he saw perpetrated around him. Despite those confusing humanity for weakness, he’s still got more guts than any couch jockey. The guy is the closest thing America has produced to a
    real thorn in authority’s side, other than Pat Tillman, who they took care of. I didn’t know the guy before I saw the film, and he’s a freshly minted hero to me now, so that says plenty about him and the film.

    And to the FBI investigator who half-heartedly apologizes in the film…your pathetic rationales don’t mean much to a guy locked in a US terror prison. Go prosecute the
    real criminals you’ve toadyed to.

    The film could have covered a bit more background on who really started all the unsustainable logging in the West – wall st corporate raiders who bought many of the logging companies in the West, and ‘liquidated assets’ (cut down all their trees) for the quickest buck. Also the genius advocates of clearcutting at the Forest service, still unapologetic tot his day.

    So once again, the 80s, Ronald Reagan, right-wing greed, and the much-ballyhooed deregulated ‘free market system’ come into focus.

  • Tim Richards

    I think that this is a well done documentary, the part that is missed is what is being done today to prevent this from reoccuring in 5 or 10 years. Personally two items from this film stick in my head. One, the replacement of native trees of old growth with fast growing less diverse trees. What is the ecological result of this destruction? (terror comes to mind) 

    Second, is the question of large corperations (oil) destroying ecosystems by lets say an accidental spill. When will the heads of these companies stand in court and be charged as terrorists? We can not simply pick who is punished all must be punished equally. I think that it is unfortunate that property was damaged by ELF but I also believe that companies cause property damage and should pay for that as well.

     A Terrorist in my book is not an arsen if that is the case we need to look at these cities were property owners are burning down abandend houses because they think it is an eye-sore or it causes thier property value to decrease.

  • Mikesmithe

    I Loved if a Tree Falls. I do not agree with all the methods that the E.L.F. used in combating what were and are real issues for anyone who really cares about life on this planet. However, with that said I certainly agree with the DESTRUCTION of the meat packing plants that were slaughtering wild horses. (I believe that the director of the film stated that they were not able to rebuild these packing plants).WHERE DO I SIGN UP!  There was so much blood from the slaughtered horses that it TAINTED THEIR DRINKING WATER SUPPLY and shut it down. How cruel man can really be is SICKENING! Why is it that man has to kill or destroy everything beautiful on this planet just to make a buck on it. (Usually millions or billions of bucks). Why can’t we learn to live with and respect our environment without destroying it for a profit!
     These guys are not terrorists because they took precautions and injured not one living thing.( Which is more than can be said of the packing plants.)  These were just young people who were tired of watching people protest without any results really coming from these”sit ins” or “marches”.( It also did not help that the police were so aggressive in their approach to dealing with these protesters). This is evidence of their frustration with the non-violent approach when not only the E.L.F. but, the entire town in Oregon tried to close the Horse killing plant  for TEN YEARS without any results. When you protest for TEN YEARS without results most reasonable people would either give up; or up the stakes. In the case of the”packing plants” they uped the stakes by burning them down and the plants were not rebuilt. For this action I totally agree with their actions. They never harmed one living thing physically, just financially. These actions were criminal under the law, but in my opinion were morally acceptable. If more people were this extreme when theirs beliefs are not at least listened to, then just maybe these corporations would think twice before acting so recklessly.

  • Adelaidemarie

    in 1998 i stepped off the edge of the world and it was Largely due to a news piece i saw on cnn either in late january or early february. i saw some peaceful demonstrates in a forest park building. police came to each individual and forced open the eyes while another sprayed mace into them and another came along with a q-tip rubbing the offending substance in. i was horrified. i was a waitress and told everyone i came across what i had witnessed on that dreadful programn. i was further horified by the lack of care from ordinary citizens. that same night i saw an interview with karla faye tucker on larry king. as i said before witnessing such horror led me to my fall from the world the day texas murdered karla faye tucker and george laughed. i have so many feelings i need to explore as i feel things have come full circle after watching your film. in 2001 my firstborn child was murdered while in his vehicle. the police are not sdoing the job they have been hired to do. they are working for corporations is my guess. to call these people terrorist when no human life was damaged as a result of their actions is a sacrilege. i believe my life is entering activism as a result of these people being imprisoned for standing against a corporate world who cares not one iota for life……anyones.  thank you ever so much for presenting this film and i pray our paths cross.
    AdelaideMarie
    HuMan BEing

  • Gailevalyn

    When is property destruction an act of freedom or an act of terrorism? Was the Boston Tea Party (lots of private property dumped in the bay,) speaking out for freedom or intimidating the proper owners of the tea? It’s not easy to decide and this is where the prosecutor in the film made one of the points that resonated with me. He used to think it was all black and white but after getting to know Dan McGowan and the others, he realized there are shades of gray. I believe people will always face this conundrum.

  • Wet Paint

    My feelings regarding  “If a Tree Falls”, were a mixture of stunned horror, anger, empathy and profound sadness. (and admiration for director Marshall Curry… who was able to masterfully articulate such a complex subject ).
    What is the solution? I’m not smart enough to know all the answers. 

    In my humble opinion, I do NOT believe  Dan McGowan is a Terrorist. 
    I believe he was a naive young man who’s anger and frustration with corrupt “big business”, and corrupt or ambivalent state and government official pushed him (and others in E.L.F.), to the breaking point.

    I would not have hesitated for a second to burn down that Meat Packing plant which was slaughtering those magnificent wild horses.
    Does that make me a Terrorist?
    Or does that mean I am a person who when confronted by evil, has the moxie to do what is necessary to stop evil? If so, how should I “label” myself?

    As with all radical movements, “splinter” groups manifest… attracting the deranged. In this case …. the promise of arson. 
    Hence, the environmental issues/agenda of E.L.F. are lost.
    And it all spirals out of control.

    • Peter

      “I would not have hesitated for a second to burn down that Meat Packing plant which was slaughtering those magnificent wild horses.”

      I hope that you would.  Would you like me to point out other instances of injustice where your renegade brand of justice could be put to good use?

      • Wet Paint

        Peter,
        You asked me if I’d like you to point-out more instances of injustice, where my renegade brand of justice could be put to good use.

        Out of curiosity…. Yes, I’d like to hear what you have to say. 

        I think other readers of POV’s DISQUS discussions would also like to hear what you have to say. 

        Fire away. (no pun intended).

  • P.L.Reiter

    Check out: Five Days in Babylon at Amazon.com

  • Yank

    Shame on the USA judicial system.. These people neither physically harmed nor killed anyone. Cannot say that about the slaughter house that eliminated all those innocent wild horses – what was the purpose?  Killing beautiful trees that are hundreds of years old – that is terrorism of a different kind. We should be preserving these majestic living creatures!!!  WHO allowed THESE acts of terrorism?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2ZY2QEEXY4WZB66FFXGC65R5PE Yoyomofo

      Arson is a crime

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pat-Coulston/1519331435 Pat Coulston

    It is critical that we, all, decipher the language used to sway us into apathy, or worse, supporting the true enemy of our environment, or our Democracy.   
    While I was grateful for the evenness of the film’s dialogue, I am discouraged that there was no emphasis on the corporate influence on the political and law enforcement tactics.  
    The “terrorist” label was certainly coined by the corporate lobby against their loss of profit.  ELF and others were not Environmental Terrorists – they were Profit Terrorists. 

  • ThisIsNotMyAmerica

    I want to talk with ML King & Ghandi; how do you hold on to the values of non-violent protest when those tactics don’t work?  I want to talk with U.S. law enforcement officials: how do you condone cutting non-violent protesters pants off and spraying their private parts with pepper spray and putting painful chemicals into the eyes of American citizens?   I want to talk with the families of 911 & ask if they view Daniel’s actions as anything even remotely related to terrorism. I want to apologize to Mother Earth for all we’ve done (and keep doing) to her.  Maybe it will take her severely punishing us before we re-focus on humanity, preserving the land we’ve been allowed to inhabit (even though we don’t deserve it) and living our lives less intrusively.  And now, I just want to cry.  In the morning, I’ll try to find a way to help us, as Americans, live up to the standards of our founders and treasure the natural resources which the rest of the globe envies and wish they had.