This morning (at a seemingly ungodly how) I went to see If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front at Temple Theater. We had interviewed the director, Marshall Curry, a few days ago at our house as part of our Elon Sundance Experience reel. The documentary was about an “eco-terrorist” who put the building of a logging company on fire and was being charged with arson, possibly as a life sentence. Daniel McGowan, a seemingly normal and mannered citizen, is a member of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which torch down buildings of organizations and companies who perceive damage the environment. At first they were peaceful protesters but soon became radicals, and then labeled as terrorists.
The film topic itself was not that appealing to me. Shots of policemen force pepper spray into peace-protesters eyes or slaughtered horses were too much for me to take in at 9 a.m. The quality of production, however, was high caliber. Like someone said in the Q&A portion, the documentary had such an intimacy with the subjects, that you barely noticed the camera. The splicing of quotes for the storytelling with the excellence of camera work really makes for a great film. This was similar with Curry’s first film, Street Fight, about a Newark candidate for mayor trying to work against the corruption in politics. Street Fight is one of my favorite documentaries and even though it was Curry’s first production, it still captured my heart.
What I like most about Curry’s work is how his documentaries focus in on issues and people who are currently going through conflict in their lives. For McGowan, the filming took place while he was preparing and on trial for the arson charges. For Cory Booker, the candidate, the film took place in his election campaign. This provided great primary footage and present tense footage rather than a lot of dramatizing re-acting or recollection interviews. When I asked Curry about filming during the middle of an event, he said it was hard because you get so invested and have no idea where it will end. I’m not going to give away the endings for either of the documentaries, but I suggest you at least seek out and view Street Fight to witness naturally talented documentary filmmaking.