If a Tree Falls (2011) – Oscar Nominated for Best Documentary Feature
If we are in a state of crisis, if the world around us is cut down, burned to the ground, bought and sold as though somebody actually believes they own it, if it is pumped full of poisons until its water is toxic and the trees shed their leaves before they are split from their roots, and if the walls that supposedly protect us also keep us contained, what is there that we can say? As Daniel McGowen asks in this documentary that in part tells his story and part the story of the Earth Liberation Front, when you’re screaming from the top of your lungs and nobody hears you, what can you do?
Some believe peaceful protest is the most fitting form of action for a democracy, others believe that talk gets us nowhere. When so many backs are turned against you, and so many fingers wedged into ears, what difference will your placards and your catch-phrases make? What difference do your blockades make, your sit-ins, your demonstrations when you’re up against batons, pepper-spray and government sanctioned intervention? When the game is rigged against you?
The ELF was born out of frustration. All over America cells sprang up to take action against those they saw to be damaging the Earth. They burned lumber yards to the ground, meat-packing plants, SUV dealerships etc. They were branded terrorists. If a Tree Falls largely explores the validity and appropriateness of this term for these particular crimes. These were actions undertaken, we are told, out of care and the full realisation of the fragility, beauty and value of nature and life. So, who are the real terrorists? What does it mean to be an environmental terrorist? Does it mean those who torch the lumber yard? But what of those who turn our forests into lumber? When was the last time that a chairman for an oil company was arrested over an oil spill?
Business believes it speaks louder than anything else (money doesn’t talk, it swears – Bob Dylan). After a while of trying to get yourself heard over the deafening din of money-printing machinery, people get tired of screaming themselves hoarse. Those with the most to gain count on this. But those with the most to lose don’t always give up.
Many of those involved in the ELF have been caught and punished. Whether you agree with their methods or not, it would surely be foolish to deny the necessity of the sense of urgency which drove their cause.
ELF website: http://earth-liberation-front.org/
NY Times index of articles on eco-terrorism: http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/organizations/e/earth_liberation_front/index.html
Fox News on why ‘eco terrorism’ is the FBIs number 1 domestic terrorist threat: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,343768,00.html
Guardian article on the non-existent threat of ‘eco terrorism’: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/17/eco-terrorism-policing-environmental-activists