If a tree falls …

New documentary on Earth Liberation Front wins Sundance award

Two degrees of separation
My friend (and former CN&R colleague until she moved recently to attend the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism) Stacey Kennelly turned me on to a film that one of her grad-school peers, Julia Landau, worked on as researcher and assistant editor—the 2011 documentary If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, which aired on PBSPOV series on Sept. 13.

I obtained a DVD of the film—which won an award for documentary-film editing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival—from Netflix and watched it recently.

The movie, directed and produced by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman, follows the story of Daniel McGowan, a mild-mannered son of a New York cop who turns radical environmentalist and moves to Oregon in the late 1990s. There, he becomes involved—as a member of the Earth Liberation Front—in arson attacks against big timber and other entities seen as perpetrators of large-scale environmental abuse.

As one ELF member puts it, “The goal is to just send the message that consumer America is destroying the world.” No one was ever hurt or killed in any of the attacks.

McGowan was branded an “eco-terrorist” after his 2005 arrest (after having left ELF several years earlier), following the confession of lead ELF perpetrator Jacob Ferguson. Ferguson was never imprisoned for his actions as part of an agreement that involved his wearing a wire and speaking to fellow perps one by one to get their involvement on record. McGowan was given a seven-year sentence; he is currently imprisoned in a highly restrictive “Communication Management Unit” in Terre Haute, Ind.

“What is terrorism?” comes to be one of the central questions raised by the film. Even one Eugene (Ore.) police officer shown in the film ends up questioning whether ELF’s politically motivated criminal actions amount to terrorism.

The film is available for viewing online at www.pbs.org/pov/ifatreefalls through Oct. 13.

John Muir

The legacy of John Muir
If you’re looking for something good to do any ol’ weekend between now and Jan. 22, 2012, take a trip down to the Bay Area and see the Oakland Museum of California’s John Muir exhibit, A Walk in the Wild: Continuing John Muir’s Journey.

A “mix of art, history and science,” as writer Sam Whiting described it in July in the SF Chronicle (see http://tinyurl.com/oaktownmuir), the extensive exhibit features Muir’s globe, desk, bookcases, journals, letters, drawings and actual botanical specimens, as well as a live Muir impersonator and 13 other rugged lookalikes captured on video portraying various aspects of Muir’s life (such as climbing up Half Dome or to the top of a redwood tree).

“[T]he exhibition is a tribute to Muir’s impact on California and to the importance of continued environmental stewardship today,” says the museum’s website. Through interactive, multisensory displays and digital mash-ups, [the exhibit] simulates many of Muir’s explorations, including his trek from Yosemite to Mount Whitney, and even his night spent in a hollow giant sequoia as the forest burned around him.”

Go to http://museumca.org/muir for more info.

I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.—Abraham Lincoln