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If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English Stereo
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Feature length commentary with Director/Editor Marshall Curry, Co-director/Cinematographer Sam Cullman, & Editor Matthew Hamachek
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Extended interviews
  • "You cannot control what is wild" - updates from subjects in the film
  • Post-screening Q&A in Ashland, Oregon with Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
  • Original theatrical trailer

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Marshall Curry
2011 | 85 Minutes

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $29.99 | Series: Oscilloscope Laboratories | Edition: #38
Oscilloscope Laboratories

Release Date: August 30, 2011
Review Date: August 27, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

On December 7th, 2005, federal agents conducted a nationwide sweep of radical environmentalists involved with the Earth Liberation Front - an organization the FBI has called America's "number one domestic terrorism threat."

IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT is the remarkable story of the group's rise and fall, told through the transformation and radicalization of one of its members, Daniel McGowan. Part coming-of-age tale, part cops-and-robbers thriller, the film interweaves a chronicle of McGowan facing life in prison with a dramatic investigation of the events that led to his involvement with the ELF. Using never-before-seen archival footage and intimate interviews - with cell members and with the prosecutor and detective who were chasing them - IF A TREE FALLS asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism.


PICTURE

Oscilloscope Laboratories brings Marshall Curryís documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front to DVD in the aspect ratio of about 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

All things considered it looks pretty good. Newer material shot exclusively for this film looks to have been shot in standard-definition digital while archival footage seems to come from video or other less-than-stellar materials. The main interview footage actually looks surprisingly decent and upscaled holds together well. Despite some jagged edges, noise, and shimmering, itís stable, remains sharp, and presents some strong colours. Black levels vary, coming off crushed in spots, but this isnít altogether that surprising. Archival material can look rough but this is also expected.

Itís probably somewhat meaningless to even review the video here but for those concerned it has a more than acceptable video presentation.

7/10

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AUDIO

The films comes with two audio tracks, a stereo track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. The 5.1 track is certainly fuller and makes better use of the bass but this is really only prominent in the music; a majority of the track remains in the fronts but thereís some mild creativity there. In both cases, though, the tracks are clean and dialogue is clear, really the most important aspect for a documentary.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

A few supplements have been included starting with an audio commentary by director Curry, co-director/cinematographer Sam Cullman, and Editor Matthew Hamachek. I found the track surprisingly informative, even enlightening. The group covers the genesis of the project and talk in great length about all the work that went into gathering the material and how the film and its central story came to form in a surprising manner to them. As they explain early on the documentary, which follows former E. L. F. member Daniel McGowan who is on trial for a number of arsons, started out as a ďdid he do it?Ē type of documentary but morphed into a ďwhy did he do it?Ē, the filmmakers now finding a more interesting story. The film is surprisingly fair and balanced (though itís not hard to see the filmmakers lean more towards the cause of the environmentalists if not the actions of the more extreme members) and they remain that in the commentary offering their thoughts and observations when not going on into the more technical details. They also offer some interesting pointers about documentaries I have to admit I never considered before, like another early tidbit where they talk about the trouble of keeping the action going when filming Daniel in his apartment (he is under house arrest during most of the film) and ended up asking Daniel to walk around the apartment while they filmed him just to keep some sort of momentum. In all a worthwhile commentary track.

Next are 5 deleted scenes running a total of 8-minutes. They feature Danielís sister and father going to a rally, a scene with Daniel and his new wife looking through their wedding photos, a short scene with his sister where she talks about the money sheís had to spend on his defense, and then footage of Daniel at both a Halloween and then a Christmas gathering. The footage is good and worth watching but I see why it was cut: in the end they are actually distracting scenes that take away from the main thrust of the story the filmmakers intended to cover.

On top of the deleted scenes there are also extended interviews, three running a total of about 7-minutes. The first features Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Engvall offering a humourous anecdote about Jake Fergusonís undercover work. The second is a short bit with Leslie James Pickering, former E. L. F. spokesman, who talks about how he received information and how he always pictured the group (he figured they were older people) and his shock when he discovered he was receiving information from Daniel McGowan, someone he knew but never figured to be an extremist. And then finally thereís a short clip with former E. L. F. member Jonathan Paul, who participated in at least one of the arsons. He goes into detail about it and his feelings about the incident years later. Similar to the deleted scenes the interviews probably didnít fit in the film but here on their own they offer some more interesting background information.

ĒYou Cannot Control What is WildĒ is an 8-minute update about the various subjects in the film. It concentrates mainly on Daniel and his incarceration in a type of Super Max prison reserved for terrorists, but also features footage with Steve Swanson, one of the arson victims, and Greg Harvey, one of the investigators on the case. I was annoyed it spent more time on Daniel (who I must admit doesnít get all of my sympathy) but itís an interesting feature.

Finally we then get footage from a Post-screening Q&A in Ashland, Oregon with Curry and Cullman. Itís a short 9-minutes but they talk about coming across the story, what their goals were for the film, how hard it was to get people to talk to them, and also talk a bit about Danielís incarceration. Some mild repetition but itís worth viewing.

In the end the supplements offers some more material on the subject matter covered in the film as well as some intriguing insights into the making of it.

8/10

CLOSING

I was expecting either a film that fully condemned the Earth Liberation Front and their actions or fully embraced them and their ideals, and instead I got a rather balanced film. Nobody on either side (whether members of E. L. F. or the investigators after them or the victims of the arsons themselves) comes off in a truly positive light nor comes off as an easy villain. The film shows there is no black and white here, just gray (which an investigator talks about at the conclusion of the film) and then leaves it to the viewer to come up with how they feel on the subject. Itís an interesting, well-handled film.

Oscilloscopeís DVD offers a strong presentation and great selection of supplements, offering one of the more interesting DVD releases Iíve come across this year.




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