Federal agents arrested Daniel McGowan in 2005 in a sweep of activists involved with the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, a group the FBI called the country's No. 1 domestic terrorism threat. Filmmaker Marshall Curry, whose movies include Street Fight, which follows Cory Booker's first run for mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and Racing Dreams, about two boys and a girl who dream of racing in Nascar, has made If a Tree Falls, chronicling McGowan's house arrest when he facing life in prison and the period from 1995 until early 2001 when environmentalists were clashing with timber companies and law enforcement.
The movie has been shortlisted for an Academy Award. We sat down with Curry before a screening in San Francisco to talk to him about how this movie overlaps with the Occupy movement; the link between Nascar, inner city politics, and radical environmentalism; and persuading timber company officials, cops, and members of the ELF that New York City filmmakers could tell the whole story fairly.