2/31: If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
The story in question is that of Daniel McGowan, a former ELF agitator (and arsonist, by his own admission) who got pinched by federal agents in 2005. He's not a terribly likely-looking "domestic terrorist," certainly — not compared with the dreadlocked junkie who flipped on him for a sentence reduction, anyway — but he's an excellent choice of subject by the filmmakers for that reason. How does a young man who'd never even gone camping, the son of a New York City cop, become radicalized on the subject of the environment? How does the movement, or part of it, become radicalized, away from protest that, as long as it's non-violent, is also ineffective?
The film doesn't answer those questions, exactly, but the way it raises them is deft, and it's worth putting the ELF we see here alongside the Occupy movement and comparing the two. Does the "murder" of a redwood justify the firebombing of a lumber-company office, even if the office is empty? Will you answer differently after you watch the parking-lot/pepper-spray sequence, the Eugene cops cutting down trees with protestors still in them?
Stephen Holden's review in the Times notes, "The film’s sobriety and carefully balanced arguments make it an exemplary piece of reporting, although its emotional heat rarely rises to a boil." True, but I see enough documentaries that make my own blood simmer; this one's just a good story, well told. (If you want to get mad, Marshall Curry — co-director and -producer of If A Tree Falls — also directed Street Fight, the story of the 2002 mayoral election in Newark, NJ. Great film, and I still want to kick Sharpe James in the tits to this day because of it.)
Tags: 31 Days 31 Films Daniel McGowan documentaries If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front Marshall Curry movies Sharpe James Stephen Holden