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


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The Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is a very well-made film, and it asks difficult questions about effecting change even though it offers little defense for the actions of the Earth Liberation Front. It chronicles a tiny strain of the environmental movement that was radicalized less by destruction of natural resources than the perception that citizens had been shut out of government decision making. The 14 members of the ELF orchestrated a spree of arsons that caused millions of dollars in damage but later decided the tactic was not working and ceased operations. The FBI, however, eventually caught them (and tried some of them under anti-terrorism laws passed in response to 9/11). The film details the group's formation, operations, the FBI manhunt and subsequent trials. Review here.

In the trailer, one person says that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. But one of the questions in the film is whether the ELF's members are guilty of property damage or terrorism. They never killed or injured anyone, and it was their intent not to do so. They departed from typical activism by engaging in uncivil disobedience, but is labeling them terrorists at a time when that term invokes a certain public hysteria a just tactic for the government to use? At what point is government abusing its power in the name of justice?


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