Screened as part of NZIFF 2011

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

Directed by Marshall Curry

Superb investigative doco about the perils of activism examines the case of the ‘eco-terrorist’ Earth Liberation Front, who torched timber industry property in the US Northwest. “An intriguing and important film.” — Filmmaker

USA In English
85 minutes DigiBeta


Co-director, Photography

Sam Cullman


Marshall Curry
Sam Cullman


Matthew Hamachek
Marshall Curry


James Baxter
The National


Daniel McGowan
Tim Lewis
Jake Ferguson


Sundance 2011


This is a superb documentary about crime and punishment and the many-fronted ‘war on terror’ achieving a comprehensive view of fiercely contested territory – and an almost Shakespearean embrace of individual drama and history. Filmmaker Marshall Curry explores the case of Daniel McGowan, an apparently mild-mannered New Yorker arrested in 2005 for his participation in the radical Earth Liberation Front (ELF). It’s a gripping investigation: our understanding is shifted and deepened through successive encounters with a whole gamut of key players. Activists watched native forests toppled and, disillusioned by the violent suppression of public protest, targeted property (never endangering human life); the Forestry Service and mill owners watched fortunes torched by the increasingly random ELF; FBI officers were galled to the point of obsession by the tactical brilliance of ‘the nation’s number one domestic terrorism threat’. Every one of them has much to learn from listening to the others – and several of them have subsequently admitted it. — BG

“The film creates a formerly non-existent safe space, where the audience is able to get an honest glimpse into drastically conflicting viewpoints on the issues of environmentalism, terrorism, revolution and repression, and walk away with our own individual opinions, though perhaps better informed. It’s a very respectful and fair portrayal of a very polarized and criminally-charged issue, where the subjects’ humanness takes center stage.” — Leslie James Pickering, former spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front