by Alex Jackson I have officially reached the point in my life where when I see a cop beating up on a hippie, I identify with the cop. There's a shot in Marshall Curry's If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front in which the police spray two ELF members directly in the eyes with mace during a peaceful sit-in. Some audience members behind me interjected, I think by pure reflex, "That's not fair!" But I found myself feeling considerably less enraged. Yes, these protesters were being entirely non-violent, but what alternatives have they left the police? The cops are there to break up the protest and allow loggers to cut down trees. If the loggers can't do their job, it means the police haven't done theirs. And if these people can't do their jobs, then that means they can't make their mortgage payment or feed their kids. With all that at stake, conceding to the protesters isn't exactly a viable option. If a Tree Falls doesn't really rise above the level of a generic direct-to-HBO/PBS/Netflix Instant issue documentary; I was never fully sold on the validity of the ELF's cause. The Earth Liberation Front appears to be predicated on the notion that our forests should be protected simply because they're aesthetically pleasing, or because they've been on the planet for hundreds of years. Logic like that is shaky at best. The bulk of the film deals with ELF member Daniel McGowan, who was charged and eventually convicted of helping set fire to Superior Lumber Company and Jefferson Poplar Farms in 2001. After 9/11, his case fell under a new "terrorist enhancement," which would mean a harsher sentence. I get the feeling that nobody involved in the Earth Liberation Front sees the liberation of the Earth as a cause worth going to federal prison for. These acts of arson are depicted as the dumb actions of a dumb kid several years ago and not the work of a real "terrorist." It all strikes me as incredibly disingenuous: if Curry isn't going to romanticize McGowan as a martyr for his movement, it seems to me he should be more proactive in exposing the underlying naiveté of his cause.