It's a strange irony that the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) may be the most reasonable group of people ever labeled terrorists. By design, their spree of arsons targeted at massive logging companies and other entities they deemed environmental offenders never killed or injured a single human being. (One of the fires eliminated a slaughterhouse used to kill wild horses, a facility so poorly run the overflow of blood ran into local waters.) The group even disbanded after members concluded it had made some mistakes and the tactics were not succeeding in communicating their message or building support for environmentalism. But the government pursued and eventually caught the 14 core members. One of them, Daniel McGowan, was tried in his home of New York City according to laws developed in response to the al Qaeda terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Marshall Curry's If Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front focuses on ELF, chronicling the events that radicalized them, McGowan's trial and the government's cracking of the case. The film includes some harrowing views of entire mountains balded by logging, but the events that radicalized the ELF involved the actions of government. One featured the grand irony of federal forest rangers removing protestors in order for a logging company to begin operations on federal lands. In a couple cases, it wasn't just that the environmentalists felt government was being run to favor corporate interests, but that it was systematically denying citizen participation. In one example, the city council of a small town in Oregon pre-empted public discussion of the destruction of designated "heritage" trees (for a corporation to build a downtown parking lot) by moving the tree cutting to the day before the meeting. When protestors climbed into the trees to try to delay the action until after the meeting, police in riot gear were sent to remove them in an overwhelming show of force.
The film doesn't offer an argument for exoneration for McGowan or ELF, but it does probe whether the system is just. They are guilty of the destruction of corporate property, but are they terrorists? Tickets $8.50 general admission, $6.50 New Orleans Film Society members. — Will Coviello
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
7:30 p.m. Monday-Tuesday
Chalmette Movies, 8700 W. Judge Perez Drive, 304-9992; www.chalmettemovies.com