If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front: Eco-Documentary
Marshall CurrySam Cullman
If a Tree Falls
discusses the fine line between activism and terrorism. What do you do when
years and years of non-violent, peaceful protesting and petitioning are ignored
by those in charge? Are activists to be faulted for taking a more violent
approach to protesting; especially if its effect is more immediate? Who are the
real terrorists; the corporations destroying our planet or the activists
protesting violently to save it?
The ELF is an environmental protection group that consists of jaded activists
that had come to terms with the futility of the years upon years that they
spent protesting peacefully. Worn-out and desperate, they decided to force their opponents to quit harming the environment by using
more radical forms of protests. They reasoned that since capitalist businesses
were those responsible for ruining the environment, they would target them in
the only place that mattered; their bank accounts. They set out to inflict as
much damage as possible on the property of these corporations. This would
immediately halt the damaging practices, often for good. They reasoned that protests and petitions can be ignored; fire, not so much.
The documentary focuses on Daniel McGowan, an ELF member facing life in
prison for two attacks on logging companies. He is interviewed extensively
alongside peripheral interviews with his sister, wife, fellow activists, police
officers and loggers. If a Tree Falls
shows how the ELF started, what spurred these peaceful nature lovers into
reacting violently, and how the movement snowballed across the USA. It also
focuses on the US media’s smear campaign against them and how their indiscriminate
use of language managed to skew public opinion.
This documentary provides a compelling argument for the ELF, while also
giving those on the other side, i.e. lumberjacks and law enforcement personnel,
ample time to have their say. That being said, it definitely is skewed in
favour of the ELF. It appeals directly to the idealistic part of you, the one
that sees the world in black and white, devoid of any shades of grey. The
documentary could even be called emotionally manipulative, but it’s in the most
righteous way possible. Either way, you definitely get the impression that the
filmmakers identified strongly with McGowan, who is admittedly a very
The documentary also questions the definition of the word terrorist.
Would ‘eco-terrorists’ be considered on par with those behind the 9/11 attacks?
According to the law, they’re both one and the same. The main difference
between the two happens to be that the ELF’s respect for life didn’t stop at
saving the trees. Their numerous bombings were all orchestrated in such a way
that nobody would get hurt, and nobody did. The film argues that this respect
for life elevates the ELF firmly out of this category and that the definition
of terrorism in this case depends on which side you’re on; the environment’s or