7.2/10
2,630
17 user 32 critic

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011)

Trailer
2:09 | Trailer

Watch Now

From $3.99 on Amazon Video

ON DISC
A rare behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America's 'number one domestic terrorist threat.'
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 6 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »

Videos

Photos

Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Horror | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.3/10 X  

Siblings, Brad and Lisa Carpenter, along with two lifelong family friends, Will and Vanessa, set out to cross Eastern Canada enroute to an annual family reunion. Their road trip takes them ... See full summary »

Director: Gabriel Carrer
Stars: Ry Barrett, Breanne TeBoekhorst, Jennifer De Lucia
Documentary | Action | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home? Hell and Back Again is a cinematically revolutionary film that asks and answers these questions with a power and ... See full summary »

Director: Danfung Dennis
Stars: Nathan Harris, Ashley Harris, The Marines of Echo Company
Documentary | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

The remarkable story of The Weather Underground, radical activists of the 1970s, and of radical politics at its best and most disastrous.

Directors: Sam Green, Bill Siegel
Stars: Lili Taylor, Pamela Z, Jim Lange
Street Fight (2005)
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

This documentary follows the 2002 mayoral campaign in Newark, New Jersey in which the Cory Booker attempted to unseat longtime mayor Sharpe James.

Director: Marshall Curry
Stars: Jen Bluestein, Cory Booker, Bill Bradley
Documentary | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

An investigative documentary about the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the US military.

Director: Kirby Dick
Stars: Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick, Kori Cioca
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

Seen through the eyes of activist Peter Jay Brown, Confessions grants the viewer an intimate look at shipboard life amongst these self proclaimed animal saviors and sea rebels who shaped ... See full summary »

Director: Peter Brown
Stars: Peter Brown, Robert Hunter, Paul Watson
The Garden I (2008)
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

From the ashes of the L.A. riots arose a lush, 14-acre community garden, the largest of its kind in the United States. Now bulldozers threaten its future.

Director: Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Stars: Danny Glover, Daryl Hannah, Antonio Villaraigosa
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

A documentary on a Palestinian farmer's chronicle of his nonviolent resistance to the actions of the Israeli army.

Directors: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi
Stars: Emad Burnat, Soraya Burnat, Mohammed Burnat
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

"The Most Dangerous Man in America" is the story of what happens when a former Pentagon insider, armed only with his conscience, steadfast determination, and a file cabinet full of ... See full summary »

Directors: Judith Ehrlich, Rick Goldsmith
Stars: Peter Arnett, Ben Bagdikian, Ann Beeson
GasLand (2010)
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

An exploration of the fracking petroleum extraction industry and the serious environmental consequences involved.

Director: Josh Fox
Stars: Josh Fox, Dick Cheney, Pete Seeger
Dirty Wars (2013)
Documentary | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill is pulled into an unexpected journey as he chases down the hidden truth behind America's expanding covert wars.

Director: Rick Rowley
Stars: Jeremy Scahill, Nasser Al Aulaqi, Saleha Al Aulaqi
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

A redemptive tale of an aspiring rap artist surviving failed levees and her own troubled past and seizing a chance for a new beginning.

Directors: Carl Deal, Tia Lessin
Stars: Michael Brown, George W. Bush, Julie Chen
Edit

Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Daniel McGowan ...
Himself - Earth Liberation Front Activist
Lisa McGowan ...
Herself - Daniel's Sister
Tim Lewis ...
Himself - Activist & Filmmaker
Kirk Engdall ...
Himself - Assistant U.S. Attorney
Jim Flynn ...
Himself - Former Editor, Earth First Journal
Jenny Synan ...
Herself - Daniel's Girlfriend
Susan Synan ...
Herself - Jenny's Mother
Bill Barton ...
Himself - Native Forest Council
Leslie James Pickering ...
Himself - Former ELF Spokesman
Greg Harvey ...
Himself - Detective, Eugene Police Department
Chuck Tilby ...
Himself - Captain, Eugene Police Department
Suzanne Savoie ...
Herself - Daniel's Ex-Girlfriend
Steve Swanson ...
Himself - President, Superior Lumber
Chuck Wert ...
Himself - Executive Vice President, Superior Lumber
Don Rice ...
Himself - Manager, Jefferson Poplar Farms
Edit

Storyline

IF A TREE FALLS is a rare behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America's 'number one domestic terrorist threat.' With unprecedented access and a nuanced point of view, the documentary tells the story of Daniel McGowan, an ELF member who faced life in prison for two multi-million dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies. The film employs McGowan's story to examine larger questions about environmentalism, activism, and terrorism. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
Edit

Details

Official Sites:

|

Country:

|

Language:

Release Date:

January 2011 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Queda de uma Árvore: A História da Frente de Libertação da Terra  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$5,634 (USA) (24 June 2011)

Gross:

$61,153 (USA) (19 August 2011)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Color:

See  »
Edit

Did You Know?

Quotes

Himself - Earth Liberation Front Activist: When you're screaming at the top of your lungs and no one hears you, what are you supposed to do?
See more »

Connections

References Coal Country (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes
Written, Performed and Published by Propagandhi
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

A Surprisingly Well-Balanced Study of Social Activism
25 August 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I saw this film this July at the Traverse City Film Festival. Actually, I was dragged there by my daughter (who is much more of an activist concerning environmental issues than am I.) I generally avoid environmental documentaries because many times they paint a very black and white view of the issues. This film is an engrossing and gratifying exception.

The film follows former Earth Liberation Front (ELF) activist Daniel McGowan from his arrest by the FBI as an "environmental terrorist" through his legal efforts to avoid a life sentence. Even though his actions only resulted in destruction of property without loss of life or even physical harm to living creatures, the government was determined to make an example of Daniel and a few others of the formerly close-knit group. For many years they had no leads in ELF's membership and the crimes (destroying -- primarily by arson -- ranger stations and businesses that they considered destructive to the environment). They only cracked the case 5 years after the organization had disbanded by treating it as a "cold case." At that time, the FBI serendipitously uncovered information which led to the identification of one of the more hard-core and less altruistic members of the group who then turned informant on the rest of the members, which resulted in his doing no jail time at all while his fellow conspirators faced life sentences. Unfair, but not uncommon in our system of "justice."

Daniel McGowan is a city-raised young man from New York who became infatuated with environmental activists, participating in their peaceful and legal protests. Upon seeing the foolish and counterproductive hard-nosed repression of those protests by government and police agencies, he decided to throw his lot in with others in ELF and resorted to property damage to make corporations and the government "feel the pain" of their policies.

Here is where the documentary becomes wonderfully balanced, allowing the pursuing government agencies their frustrations and those property owners who had been attacked to voice the disruption and anxiety that ELF caused in their life. At times, ELF acted on faulty information which resulted in businesses being attacked who were completely innocent of the policies ELF felt were destructive to the earth.

Daniel himself comes off as idealistic and frustrated, but often misguided and gullible. As his life progresses, he becomes wiser about some of his decisions and regretful of the destruction in which he participated and how the consequences of that destruction was often (but not always) negative to the environmental movement. However, after his arrest he would not testify against his fellow ELF members (one of the few) and therefore received some of the harshest punishment. One can find some sympathy for him, especially with the idea that he was equated in the justice system with terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh or the 9/11 terrorists, although he never physically harmed any living being.

But the prosecutors are also portrayed in a generally positive light, with one saying at the end of the film (to paraphrase) that he was old enough to understand that not everything is black and white... that life is much more complicated than that. He said that once he understood where Daniel came from and why he believed as he did, he could understand why he might make the decisions he did, wrong-headed as they were. Such enlightenment being shown by our government officials is somewhat unusual.

The co-directer, Sam Cullman, who held a Q&A after the screening at Traverse City, said this is "A" story of ELF, and not "The" story, and I think that is well-stated. The organization probably has many stories as each member had his or her own motivations.

The larger question remains... if faced with a resistant and unresponsive establishment, how is change effected? This film adds to that discussion in a balanced and educational, but compelling way, making it one of the best docs about tactics used by social and environmental movements. 9/10


24 of 29 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
First your property then your lawn, you're missing the whole point! juancarlosadex-250-234756
The Rest of the Story? rmatlan
Very Balanced thanasaki_mtl

Contribute to This Page