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

Unrated  |   |  Documentary, Biography, Crime  |  January 2011 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 2,587 users   Metascore: 65/100
Reviews: 17 user | 32 critic | 14 from Metacritic.com

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.'

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 6 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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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


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

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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)


$61,153 (USA) (19 August 2011)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



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Did You Know?


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 »


References Pickaxe (1999) See more »


Cherry Tree
Written by Matt Berninger (as Matthew Berninger) and Bryce Dessner
Performed by The National
Courtesy of Brassland
Published by Val Jester Music (ASCAP) and Hawk Ridge Songs (ASCAP)
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User Reviews

Radical Approach
2 November 2011 | by (North Carolina) – See all my reviews

For a long time I've wondered if radical groups like the ELF are crucial to the causes they support because their tactics bring much-needed attention to the causes, or if they are detrimental because their tactics turn off many people who'd normally be sympathetic to their causes. This film reinforces for me that the answer is "yes" and "yes" -- i.e., "it depends" ... on the cause, on the specific tactics, and ultimately on personal points of view.

IF A TREE FALLS added an interesting angle for me in this notion of the positive/negative net effect of radicalism. I had never thought about the impact of law enforcement's treatment of the radical groups -- i.e., do their tactics (brutal in many cases toward environmental protesters) help or hinder THEIR cause? As I watched the film, I wondered if there were disagreements about tactics/approaches within law enforcement akin to the disagreements within the ELF and the broader environmental activist community.

And that's what makes this film so strong and effective. It prompts you to ask a lot of questions. IF A TREE FALLS does it in a way that is character driven. The broader story unfolds through the stories of individuals who were involved. The result is that you (the audience) get involved!

I highly recommend the film. And like me, you may want to revisit THE THIN BLUE LINE and FIGHT CLUB after you see IF A TREE FALLS.

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