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If a Tree Falls

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Research Environmental Issues and Debate Protest Strategies

In If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, the ELF turn to arson as a form of protest after they feel their environmental activism has been ineffective. Learn ways to address environmental issues and initiate a conversation about effective protest strategies and the response to activism in your own communities.
  • Host a screening of If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front as part of an Earth Day observance. While adults are watching the film, offer a story hour for children in which they read and talk about Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.

  • Research environmental issues in your local community and develop a project to address them. For ideas on possible ways to address your issue(s), you might make a quick list of the legal initiatives that you see or hear about in the film, e.g., recycling and the Wetlands bar (which hosted educational events and used the profits to run an environmental center).

  • Investigate the role that public relations firms like the one that employed McGowan (Burson-Marsteller) play in media reports, debates and legislation on environmental policy issues. You might start with resources from the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch.

  • Initiate a dialogue with local and state police about their policies on responding to public protest or civil disobedience. Include in the discussion the permitted use of pepper spray and Tasers, as well as the use of cameras (both by police and by civilians).

  • List all the protest and activism strategies shown being used throughout the film (letter writing, street protest, monkey-wrenching, filmmaking, disabling bulldozers with sugar in gas tanks, arson and so on). Rate each strategy on a scale of zero to five, with five being extremely effective and zero being not effective at all. Share your ratings with other group members and explain your reasoning. Then, discuss what made arson seem like an effective strategy to members of the ELF.


Get informed about the issues in the film and lead a discussion in your community.

Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front explores two pressing issues — environmentalism and terrorism — by lifting the veil on a radical environmental group the FBI calls America's "number one domestic terrorism threat." As an outreach tool, If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front provides an excellent springboard for deep discussion about the tensions inherent in social change movements. It explores differences among people who want to work within the system, those who support a strategy of civil disobedience and those who choose to "fight fire with fire" (literally and figuratively). As it asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism and the way we define terrorism, the film helps viewers reach beyond simplistic public policy debates to uncover the complex and passionate lives behind the headlines and statistics.

Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students will examine the role of various forms of protest in a democracy. They will analyze the motivations and actions of those involved in a 1997 arson in Eugene, Oregon. Then, they will evaluate the effectiveness of this form of protest. Finally, students will describe how they would voice opposition to a specific event, policy or practice in their community.

Reading List

Delve Deeper

This multi-media resource list, compiled by Shaun Briley, of the San Diego Public Library, includes books, films and other materials related to the issues present in the film If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. Learn more about American environmentalism, America's forests, and domestic protest and security.

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I'm always intrigued when reality cuts against my expectations or stereotypes. How did this guy — who could be anyone's little brother, or employee, or next-­door neighbor — wind up facing life in prison for 'eco-terrorism'?”

— Marshall Curry, Filmmaker

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