This look at the 2011 Sundance US Documentary Competition reaches the halfway mark with Director Marshall Curry and Co-Director Sam Cullman’s exploration of activism outside the law, IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT.

Sundance Program Description:

Marshall Curry’s documentary tells a timely story of political action and environmental beliefs at loggerheads. His reconstruction of the recent history and unraveling of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is a fascinating exploration of a modern revolutionary movement and its efficacy. Fusing fervent concerns about ecological imbalance and capitalism run amok, ELF members and sleeper cells employed economic sabotage by destroying facilities involved in deforestation to remove the profit potential from companies wreaking environmental destruction.

Focusing on Oregon-based activist Daniel McGowan, Curry relates the tale of a mild-mannered, middle-class citizen driven to extremes and brought to trial on charges of terrorism for his participation in ELF-related arson plots. Detailing activists’ past disillusionment with public protest—and the police brutality and inertia that often followed—the film poses difficult questions about the possibility of effecting change from either within or without the system and examines the changed stakes for revolutionaries today in a world fixated on branding all dissenters as terrorists.

Some Background:
Director Marshall Curry is of course known for the success both of his previous documentary features have achieved – 2005’s STREET FIGHT won awards at Tribeca, Hot Docs, and Silverdocs before going on to be nominated for both an Oscar and an Emmy, while 2009’s RACING DREAMS also won at Tribeca and is being remade as a narrative feature by DreamWorks. Co-Director and Cinematographer Sam Cullman’s previous work includes serving as an Associate Producer on GIULIANI TIME and the Director of Photography on KING CORN and Sundance 2008 alum THE RECRUITER.

Why You Should Watch:
Curry and Cullman go beyond the sensationalism that has characterized most of the media’s coverage of the ELF to get to a deeper exploration of its controversial methods and agenda, raising thought-provoking questions about activism vs terrorism and the justice system in the process.

Screening Info:
For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph above. The film also has a placeholder website which interested readers could check for future screening updates.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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