There are large and powerful forces out there determined in the name of profit and progress to squeeze the Earth dry of all her resources. But a new generation of eco-warriors have arrived on the scene dedicated to saving the planet in a variety of ways. Some are involved in local marches to preserve the environment, others are using nonviolent protest, and others are relying upon the ballot box to bring about change.
Then there are those involved in underground groups like the Earth Liberation Front which has no qualms about expressing their moral outrage through vandalism or arson. None of the 1200 recorded incidents involving this group has injured one person yet the FBI during the Bush Administration labeled the Earth Liberation Front as "the nation's No. 1 domestic terrorism threat." In December of 2005, federal agents arrested Daniel McGowan who had four years earlier participated in some of the ELF's acts of destruction. His sister bails him out of prison and allows him to stay with her during his seven month house arrest until the trial.
Marshall Curry directs this hard-hitting documentary about the rise of ELF and McGowan's involvement in it. This angry young man grows up in Queens where his father is a police officer. He majors in business during college and lands a job in a large ad agency in New York City. His radicalization take place when he decides to join ELF, a group dedicated to more extreme forms of protest against the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. Part of their animosity is fueled by police brutality against their members. What we see in McGowan is a young man who is baffled by being labeled "a domestic terrorist." And yet he is given a very harsh sentence.
The real bad guys in If a Tree Falls are the powerful corporations who are closely allied with politicians who do their bidding through law-enforcement agencies. Now human rights groups are keeping a close watch on the persecution of animal rights groups who are also being categorized as "domestic terrorists."
Screened at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center Walter Reade Theater 2011.