Marshall Curry (USA, World Showcase)
Tuesday, May 3, 7:00 p.m.
Cumberland Four – Alliance Cinemas (159 Cumberland Street)
Thursday, May 5, 4:30 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Daniel McGowan seems an unlikely candidate for a radical environmental activist. A mild-mannered business major born and raised in New York City, McGowan hadn’t spent a night outdoors before he turned 22. Yet he’s been implicated in one of the most high profile environmental arson cases in US history.
If a Tree Falls opens to find McGowan under house arrest, awaiting trial for his alleged involvement in a string of fires in the Pacific Northwest that caused millions of dollars in property damage. The arsons were the work of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a covert collective of eco-activists known for their use of economic sabotage and guerrilla warfare against organizations believed to be harming the environment. While ELF actions have never resulted in death or serious injury, their aggressive tactics have led the FBI to label them “the number one domestic terrorism threat.”
Director Marshall Curry (Street Fight) lets Daniel’s story serve as a window into the extreme wing of the contemporary environmental movement. His treatment of McGowan’s formative period in the late 90s Oregon environmental scene helps us feel the sense of injustice and frustration that led many young greenies toward more radical methods—though the film is largely a comment on the futility destructive activism. You won’t walk away feeling proud of environmental extremism, but you will walk away with more empathy for the human characters behind the headlines.