If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front cuts from dramatic media footage, including the burning of a $12-million ski resort at Vail, Colo., and the arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture, to the streets of New York City, where activist and ecosaboteur Daniel McGowan was living in 2005. He was arrested in December of that year for his role in the ELF arsons that raged across the Northwest from 1996 to 2001 and charged as a “terrorist.” The film quietly makes its point that McGowan traveled a long way, physically and philosophically, from NYC to Oregon and arson and what drove him there.
If a Tree Falls is not an “activist film” per se, though it has a distinct activist appeal. It gives an equal amount of time to the voices of McGowan and Eugene’s own Tim Lewis, Jim Flynn and Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) attorney Lauren Regan as it does to prosecutor Kirk Engdall and Eugene Police Detective Greg Harvey.
The film’s clear-eyed take on the dramatic events that catalyzed the local ELF movement — from the Eugene downtown pepper-spray incident to the WTO protests — lets viewers make their own decisions about the environmental and social issues that led to the arsons. The documentary draws on archival footage, and longtime Eugeneans will recognize shots by Lewis from Warner Creek and other protests that lend a feeling of an insider’s view.
If a Tree Falls is up for an Academy Award. It screens at Bijou Art Cinemas starting Feb. 17. Proceeds from Sunday, Feb. 19, benefit the CLDC.