Oscar nominee for Best Documentary has local ties

Oscar nominee for Best Documentary has local ties

EUGENE, Ore. -- It's already a Sundance Film Festival winner, and on Sunday filmmakers were in the running for an Oscar win for the documentary "If a Tree Falls."

Marshall Curry directed the film, and he spoke with KVAL news Sunday in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he was preparing for the Academy Awards.

The documentary tells the story of the Earth Liberation Front - an eco-terrorism group that made national headlines in the 1990s with a number of arsons connected to the group, including the burning of the Oakridge Ranger Station in Oakridge, Ore.

The film features Daniel McGowan, a member of the group, who is a native of New York but lived in Eugene. He helped plan and carry out the arsons at Glendale’s Superior Lumber Co. and Jefferson Poplar Farm in Clatskanie, Oregon.

Curry said the story of McGowan fell into his lap. "My wife was running a domestic violence organization in Brooklyn and came home one day and said, "You'll never guess what happened today: four federal agents came into the office today and arrested this guy, Daniel McGowan,'" said Curry. McGowan was living in New York in 2005 when this arrest took place.

Curry said he knew McGowan prior to his arrest, but had no idea McGowan was a radical environmentalist. Curry said It sparked an interest to learn more about McGowan.

"That was intriguing to me, that my expectations could be so wrong and I wanted to figure out how he had wound up in that position that he's facing life in prison for what the government considers terrorism," said Curry.

Curry and his film crew spent time in Eugene during the court proceedings. "We spent a lot of time in Eugene, both documenting the real-time story of Daniel’s time from the time he was arrested until the time he was ultimately sent to prison."

Eventually, 11 people, including McGowan, were indicted. Most of them worked out of Eugene. They were charged with 16 arsons and the destruction of power lines in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

As for the documentary, Curry said it tells a dramatic story. "The personal story is dramatic and grounds the movie and makes it feel like a movie. You’ve got a coming-of-age story that’s personal and has emotion."

The documentary "Undefeated," which is about a struggling high school football team in Memphis, Tenn., won the Oscar for best documentary.

Click here to learn more about 'If a Tree Falls"