If a Tree Falls: A Story of the E.L.F.

United States

Running time: 85 minutes - Language: English - Year: 2011

Official Trailer

Film Summary

In December 2005, Daniel McGowan was arrested by Federal agents in a nationwide sweep of radical environmentalists involved with the Earth Liberation Front– a group the FBI has called America’s “number one domestic terrorism threat. For years, the ELF—operating in separate anonymous cells without any central leadership—had launched 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 very first ELF arsons in this 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 verite chronicle of Daniel on house arrest as he faces life in prison, with a dramatic recounting of the events that led to his involvement with the group. And along the way it asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism. Drawing from striking archival footage — much of it never before seen — 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 altered by 9/11.

Category: Resistance/Activism


Marshall Curry

Marshall Curry got his start shooting, directing, and editing the documentary, STREET FIGHT, which followed Cory Booker’s first run for mayor of Newark, NJ and was nominated for an Academy Award and an Emmy. The critically praised film was called “extraordinary” by David Denby (The New Yorker), “vastly entertaining” by John Anderson (Variety), and “filmmaking of the first order” by Scott Foundas (L.A. Weekly). After STREET FIGHT, Curry was the Director and Producer, as well as one of the Cinematographers and Editors of the feature documentary, RACING DREAMS. RACING DREAMS follows two boys and a girl who dream of one day racing in NASCAR, and the film won numerous awards including the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival Award for Best Documentary. RACING DREAMS was called “The best movie of the year,” by Scott Feinberg (The L.A. Times – “The Envelope”) and “Absorbing… one of the rare documentaries you leave wishing it was a little longer, ” by Stephen Holden (NewYork Times). Curry’s latest film POINT AND SHOOT, tells the story of a young Baltimore native who set off for Libya to join the rebels fighting dictator Muammar Gaddafi.  It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary and a few days later, it won a Special Jury Prize at the Boston Independent Film Festival.  POINT AND SHOOT was given an “A” grade by John Anderson (Indiewire), who said it was “a virtual swashbuckler”. It was called “brilliantly constructed and provocative” by Peter Keough (The Boston Globe), “riveting… an extraordinary and quietly disturbing film” by David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter), and Jay Weissberg (Variety) said the “editing is a standout.” In 2005 Marshall was selected by Filmmaker Magazine as one of “25 New Faces of Independent Film”, and he was awarded the International Documentary Association (IDA) Jacqueline Donnet Filmmaker Award. In 2007 he received the International Trailblazer Award at MIPDOC in Cannes. He has appeared as a guest on television and radio numerous times, including NPR’s Morning Edition, ABC’s Nightline, PBS’s The Tavis Smiley Show, and others. He has been a guest lecturer at Harvard, Duke, NYU, and other colleges, and he has served on juries for the International Documentary Association, Hot Docs Film Festival, Full Frame Documentary Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. He is a graduate of Swarthmore College where he studied Comparative Religion and was a Eugene Lang Scholar. He was also a Jane Addams Fellow at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, where he wrote about the history, philosophy, and economics of non-profits. For more: www.marshallcurry.com


Sam Cullman

Sam Cullman was a producer and cinematographer of THE HOUSE I LIVE IN, adocumentary about the War onDrugs in America, directed by Eugene Jareck. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2012. Cullman is also starting post-production on BLACK CHEROKEE, a short he co-directed with Benjamin Rosen about a self-taught New York City street artist. Cullman’s camera credits have included Eugene Jarecki’s WHY WE FIGHT (2005), which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in documentary; director Rob VanAlkemade and producer Morgan Spurlock’s WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY? (2007); directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s KAMP KATRINA (2007); Jonathan Stack’s LOCKUP: INSIDE ANGOLA (2008) and THE FARM: 10 DOWN (2009), both follow-ups to Stacks’ THE FARM: ANGOLA, USA (1998). His cinematography on KING CORN (2006), a Peabody award-winning documentary for ITVS, was noted for its “handsome lensing” by Dennis Harvey (Variety) and was dubbed “visually arresting” by Ann Hornaday (The Washington Post). Cullman’s camerawork will be featured in the forthcoming 2011 documentary feature releases, REAGAN by Eugene Jarecki, and WATCHERS OF THE SKY by Edet Belzberg. Cullman has also produced and directed a number of short films in collaboration with non-profits and governmental agencies like the New York City Housing Authority and the Ford Foundation. In 2003, Cullman produced, directed, shot and co-edited three profiles for BEYOND THE SPIN, a series for the Service Employees International Union on Democratic Presidential candidates. In 2004, he directed, produced and shot, SELF SERVICE for the Alliance for Quality Services, a short documentary about Sodexho USA’s policies and practices. His 2008 doc for the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence and the Yale Child Study Center explored partnerships between police departments and mental health clinicians in cities across the US. Cullman graduated from Brown University with honors (1999), where he majored in Urban Studies and the Visual Arts, and founded Yellow Cake Films in 2006. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.