If a Tree Falls

PBS Premiere: Sept. 13, 2011Check the broadcast schedule »

Film Update

Daniel McGowanAt the end of the film, Daniel McGowan was placed in a special "Communication Management Unit" (CMU) built to hold terrorists in Marion, Illinois. Prisoners there are allowed one 15-minute phone call per week and one visit per month which takes place through a glass partition.

In March 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights initiated a lawsuit on behalf of Daniel and other inmates at the CMU where he was being held. The lawsuit challenged the policies and conditions at the CMUs.

In February 2011, Daniel was moved from Marion to the CMU in Terre Haute, Indiana. At around the same time our production requested permission to interview Daniel in prison, but the request was denied by the Bureau of Prisons, which said "an interview would interfere with the safety and security needs of the institution."

Not all of the ELF participants who received the "Terrorism Enhancement" were placed in CMUs, and the Bureau of Prisons has never explained how it decides who should be assigned to such a unit. Daniel will be eligible for release on June 5, 2013.

Jenny McGowanHis wife, Jenny lives in Brooklyn. The McGowans are allowed one visit a month. Jenny typically goes at the end of a month so she can be there for the last day of one month and then visit him again the next day, because it's a long trip from Brooklyn.

Suzanne SavoieSuzanne Savoie spent nearly four years in prison. For three of those years, she was not allowed to go outside at all. She was recently released to a halfway house.

Jake FergusonJake Ferguson got probation, but just a couple of months ago, he was arrested for allegedly selling drugs.

Kirk EngdallAfter twenty years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Kirk Engdall retired in July.

Detective Greg HarveyDetective Greg Harvey is now focused on criminal street gangs, but he explains that he is "still involved with domestic terrorism cases as they come up."

Today, anonymous, autonomous cells of the Earth Liberation Front continue to operate in the United States and around the world, though with much less frequency than in years past.

Filmmaker Marshall Curry

POV: Has McGowan seen the film, or will he see the film? How about the others featured in the film? What has been their reaction?

Filmmaker Marshall CurryCurry: He will see it at some point. He has not seen it in the prison. You're not allowed to give prisoners DVDs or anything like that. I'm not sure whether he will be able to see it when it's broadcast. I know that the prison is very strict about what kind of communications from inside the prison get out and presumably also strict about what comes in. So I imagine it'll ultimately be up to the warden or the Bureau of Prisons to decide that when it's on TV.

One thing that's been interesting as we've been showing the film, though, is the way that different people on different sides of the issue have been uniformly supportive of the film. And that was something that obviously I was nervous about when we were editing it. I really wanted it to show different points of view. And it's been nice to be able to show it to the prosecutor and show it to the detective and show it to the spokesman for ELF and Daniel's family and have them all say, this is an accurate telling of what happened and it's a fair, complex telling. That's been gratifying to hear.

POV: What about audience reactions on the festival circuit?

Curry: People really seem to like it. There are some documentaries that you walk out of and you just give them standing ovations. And they pump you up. And this is a film that has humor and has drama and has intensity, but at the end of it, I think most audiences walk out sort of pensive. And they go out to dinner and they talk about it and they think about it. I've had people email me days later saying, I was just still thinking about that film, so it's been getting that kind of response, which is nice.

POV: What are your thoughts about having this film broadcast on public television? What do you want the public television audience to take away from it?

Curry: To me, being able to broadcast on PBS — and POV in particular — is kind of the Holy Grail for documentary filmmakers. The audiences are huge [and] the idea that it's free public television, so anybody, anywhere in America can watch these films, is kind of gold. Most documentary filmmakers, believe it or not, are not in it for the money and we're not in it for the glamour and the limousines. It's about showing your film and getting people to see your film, so it's great to be able to show it on POV.

And I hope that it creates conversations and gets people to talk and think about some of these issues in ways that they hadn't done before.