With the Academy Awards coming up on February 26, the films nominated for best picture and best actor are filling big screens across the country. While the contenders for best documentary are more difficult to find in theaters, what you may not know is that two of them are available at Netflix for viewing online. I have not seen Hell and Back Again, but I have watched If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, and I’m very glad I did.
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is the unbiased examination of the case against members of one cell of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) for crimes of arson in the Western part of the US in the 1990s. The film focusses in particular on former environmental activist Daniel McGowan, his evolution from nonviolent protestor to arsonist, and how he came to be convicted and jailed as a domestic terrorist. The film alternates between the point of view of the prosecutors and that of the subjects of the government’s round-up, with the tale of McGowan at its heart. Filmmakers Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman interweave archival footage, interviews with both ELF members and the government lead prosecutor and the lead detective, and intimate scenes of Daniel McGowan and his family as they await the outcome of his trial and sentencing.
Whatever your point of view on ELF when you start to watch this film, I suspect you will come to realize that the players in this particular story can not be judged strictly in black and white. You may find yourself struggling to define the word “terrorist.” The closing lines from the case’s lead prosecutor say it all.
Don’t miss this film.
Why Saturday Short Subjects? Some readers may recall being dropped at the movie theater for the Saturday matinee — two action-packed feature films with a series of short subjects (cartoons or short movies, sometimes a serial cliffhanger) sandwiched in between. Often the short subjects were the most memorable, and enjoyable, part of the morning. That explains the name. The reason behind these particular posts is that we are all short on time. My Short Subject posts should not take me as long to write or you as long to read (or try).