Tonight we have a special double feature. Co-directors Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman will discuss their Academy Award nominated film If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front for the first two-thirds of Movie Night before Sam leaves us, and in the final half hour we’ll delve into Racing Dreams, a look at three ‘tween NASCAR hopefuls during a season of the World Karting Association races, which Marshall directed.
If a Tree Falls charts the history of the Earth Liberation Front through the story of Daniel McGowan who was arrested in 2005 in a nationwide sweep by Federal agents which netted thirteen ELF members. For six years, from 1995 to 2001 anonymous, decentralized groups of activists had set fire to car dealerships, housing developments, and research labs in the name of saving the planet, making them, in the FBI’s eyes, the nation’s number one terrorist organization. While no lives were lost in ELF actions, millions of dollars worth of property were destroyed.
Daniel began his activism in an animal rights group, and from there–electrified by a documentary about the environment, and the WTO and GOP convention protests–moved to Eugene, Oregon (a stronghold of the Black Bloc and other radical activists) where his ability to get things done made him stand out. Some felt non-violent environmentalism wasn’t working, especially after the National Park Service forcibly removed an encampment of activists protecting a timber stand and law enforcement viciously pepper sprayed non-violent protestors on the genitals and in the eyes. (The similarities to Occupy are stunning in their visuals).
Daniel joined forces with others and was involved in two arson incidents, though he gradually grew disillusioned and left ELF, moving back to New York. When arrested he refuses to cooperate with the authorities, despite some of his fellows caving and facing a life sentence plus 335 years. Daniel is now currently serving time in the Communication Management Unit in Marion, Illinois–a special facility for terrorists authorized by President G.W. Bush after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,819 people.
And in a stunning interview, one investigator admits that he himself now sees shades of gray in the group’s actions, whereas before it was to him all black and white.
Featuring interviews with ELF supporters and former members, as well as with the investigators who tracked down and arrested the thirteen activists, If a Tree Falls raises important questions about terrorism in both pre- and post- 9/11 America, as well as lucidly laying out ELF’s motives and methods.
Racing Dreams is a coming of age story set against the World Karting Association’s National Series, which is pretty much the Little League of NASCAR. As they negotiate race tracks at speeds up to 70 miles and hour, they must also traverse the path into young adulthood. Eleven year-old Annabeth longs to be the first woman driver to win the Daytona 500. But as racing season progresses, she also wants to enjoy her friends, school and social life, while Brandon at thirteen must come to terms with his father’s return from prison. A straight-A student, personable and outgoing, Josh seems to be the most focused and driven.
This documentary takes an unflinching look at this world, full of religion (there’s a Karting for Christ booth at one event), close to poverty, and full of hope. It’s inspirational and touching and it’s no wonder that DreamWorks is planning a feature based on Curry’s film.