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

7.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Interesting to see how the E.L.F. developed

Too pro-E.L.F. and woudl have been nice to see more balanced.

Movie Info

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

Studio: Marshall Curry Productions


Release Date(s): January 21, 2011

MPAA Rating:  Unrated


Terrorists or heroes?

Labeled as terrorists, the Earth Liberation Front formed in reaction to attacks on the planet and what they saw as no way to truly protest within the law. This is the story of how E.L.F. came to be and the prosecution of its members for their actions.

Directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2011. The documentary is composed of interviews and primarily focuses on the upcoming trial and sentencing of Daniel McGowan. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature in the 84th Academy Awards.

The environment is a lose-lose subject.  If you want to save the environment, you have to change entire lifestyles not only in the United States but in the world.  The United States can lead by example, but if other major powers are not following (or follow the idea that the United States polluted to get where it is), it is hard to be critical of their decisions to help their economy.  In ways, you can sympathize with the moment, but sometimes militant actions create more backlash.


Unjustly imprisoned?

The movie has an obvious “pro-E.L.F.” feel or if not E.L.F. the environmental movement. What is interesting is that the film that they keep talking about the rift between E.L.F. and the average environmentalist, but they seem to really glorify the E.L.F. This is primarily because the focus is on the E.L.F. members facing prison time and their interviews as they go through it. The filmmakers do talk to the police and various businesses who were victims of the E.L.F., but for the most part they make them seem foolish or ignorant.



The movie does do an interesting job in attempting to present a balanced view by having an “environmental logger” and one of the victims who it turned out was mis-targeted by the E.L.F. for growing genetically engineered trees. I found it rather amusing that for all his talk, Daniel McGowan seemed to live a pretty posh life for someone who preaches using less and less materials goods.

The movie does hit on a touchy subject…how can we maintain our lifestyles but not hurt the environment. Even environmentalists seem to want the iPhones, computers, and other material objects that create waste, junk, and need energy. The movie doesn’t really have answers as to what we should do to help curb the waste and destruction…Even if paper is recycled, it needs a base to start.


An act by the E. L. F.

The real debate in the movie is probably whether or not the E.L.F. members should be classified as terrorists. This skewered view of “what is a terrorist” is probably the subject. After 9-11, terrorists were seen in a whole new light. Terrorism mostly involves attacks with political influences the goal…that is the goal of E.L.F. so therefor they are terrorists by definition (just attach eco to the title). They might not be killing (though there is a chance some day they accidentally could), but killing isn’t necessarily part of terrorism…it is more about destruction and crippling acts. Do the E.L.F. members deserve to be locked up with terrorists like those who were part of the 9-11 attacks? I don’t know about that…I wish they had focused more on this issue (it was more of an issue late in the documentary).

I am pretty pro-environmental, but I definitely don’t agree with E.L.F. The movie is just a bit too positive toward them despite constantly condemning them. I thought it was interesting that the officer who arrested McGowan thought McGowan would continue his actions after his sentence is served. It isn’t what the movie portrayed but I’m curious if that there might be a midway point between how the officer viewed McGowan and how McGowan was portrayed.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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