Directed by Marshall Curry ∙ 2011 ∙ United States - United Kingdom
In December 2005, Daniel McGowan was arrested by U.S. federal agents in a nationwide sweep of radical environmentalists involved with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF)—a group the FBI has called America's "number one domestic terrorism threat." For years, the ELF operated in anonymous cells without any central leadership, launching spectacular arsons against dozens of businesses they accused of destroying the environment: timber companies, SUV dealerships, wild horse slaughterhouses, and a $12 million ski lodge at Vail, Colorado. With the arrest of Daniel and thirteen others, the government had cracked what was probably the largest ELF cell in America and brought down the group responsible for the first ELF arsons in the country.
IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT tells the remarkable story of the rise and fall of this ELF cell, by focusing on the transformation and radicalization of one of its members. Part coming-of-age tale, part cops-and-robbers thriller, the film interweaves a verité chronicle of Daniel on house arrest and facing life in prison, with a dramatic recounting of the events that led to his involvement with the group. Along the way, the film asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism.
Drawing from exclusive archival footage and intimate interviews with ELF members—and with the prosecutor and detective who were chasing them—IF A TREE FALLS explores the tumultuous period from 1995 until early 2001 when environmentalists were clashing with timber companies and law enforcement, and the word "terrorism" had not yet been shaped by 9/11.
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