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directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
USA 2011


In 2005, federal agents invaded Daniel McGowan's workplace - a domestic violence center - and arrested him for being part of the Earth Liberation Front, an "eco-defense" group responsible for several acts of arson on lumber yards, paper companies, and bio labs. The shelter was run by the wife of documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry, who took an interest in Daniel's case and the history of the Earth Liberation Front. As Daniel serves a seven month long term of house arrest at his sister's home while his lawyers and the government build their cases, he learns that several of his co-defendants have taken plea deals to testify against each other for reduced sentences. Facing multiple life sentences, Daniel must decide between taking a plea or being branded a terrorist. Subtitled "a story of the Earth Liberation Front," Daniel's present storyline is intercut with a look back at the development of the Earth Liberation Front, citing events that were influential on Daniel's transition from Catholic school graduate/business major/PR company employee to peaceful protester to radical environmentalist. The story is filled out by people connected to Daniel's case: his resilient sister and father, his girlfriend (later wife), his ex-girlfriend (also one of his co-defendants), environmentalists (including filmmaker Tim Lewis), the FBI agent who arrested Daniel, the district attorney, as well as those who lost property to the arson attacks. The film also depicts the split between environmentalists for systemic change and those frustrated and alienated by violent police response to initially non-violent protest (and, sometimes, the system's failure to work within the system when capital is involved). While McGowan's story is undoubtedly moving, the filmmakers are not telling the story of an innocent drawn into a crazy cult or an idealist set up by the government (McGowan admits that he lacked forethought, and his sister's gentle but chiding remarks suggest that this is somewhat symptomatic of his personality). It is, as the filmmakers say themselves, a cautionary tale about considering the ramifications of radical action (while depicting the circumstances that cleaved the environmental movement, and subsequently eroded the ELF). The environmentalists (both moderate and radical) are forthcoming about the effects of their own self-righteousness on the dialogue, and the McGowan admits that the issues were lost in the understandable public focus on the property damage (no humans were ever hurt in any of the ELF-attributed acts of arson). The film is not without its faults. In an effort to present a balanced perspective on all sides, the filmmakers - in assessing the effectiveness of the finished product - save their "althoughs" and "buts" in response to certain statements made by participants for the commentary track. They use contrasting interview clips to argue about the "terrorist" label, but - in their effort to not "Michael Moore" the subjects - they may have been too non-confrontational during the interviews. The subject of the film certainly begs follow-up (besides an update from Daniel when his sentence is up - and a follow-up on Jake Ferguson, who reportedly got himself into more trouble after walking away from his crimes by snitching - the divides among the groups of environmentalists in Eugene, Oregon (which has been host to other self-created problems in recent years) deserves a film unto itself.

Eric Cotenas



Theatrical Release: 22 June 2011 (USA)

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DVD Review: Oscilloscope Laboratories - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

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Oscilloscope Laboratories

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 1:25:33

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 7.65 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English Dolby Digital 5.1; English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
Subtitles English SDH, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Audio Commentary with director/editor Marshall Curry, co-director/cinematographer Sam Cullman, and editor Mathew Hamachek
• 5 Deleted Scenes (16:9; 7:42)
• 3 Extended Interviews (16:9; 7:08)
• You Cannot Control What is Wild: Updates on the Participants (16:9; 8:21)
• Post-Screening Q&A Session in Ashland Oregan with Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman (16:9; 9:07)
• Trailer (16:9; 2:10)
• Easter Egg: DVD credits

DVD Release Date: 30 August 2011
Digipack in Slipcover

Chapters 16



Shot with both SD and HD digital video cameras over a period of five years, the image quality varies for the original footage as well as the stock footage (including various film gauges and nineties TV news clips cropped to 16:9). The 5.1 mix mainly serves the music score and song selections (this is a documentary, after all).

The audio commentary by the director, cinematographer, and editor touches upon the challenges to constructing the storyline, anecdotes about shooting the interviews (and about the people being interviewed), artistic touches, tracking down stock footage, and the challenges to getting people from various sides to cooperate (the environmentalists, the defendants, the prosecutors, and the owners of the damaged properties all expected that the film makers were going to "Michael Moore" them). The deleted scenes are mainly related to the Daniel McGowan storyline, as is the follow-up featurette. There is some overlap between the commentary and the Q&A, but some interesting questions are asked. Trailers for other Oscilloscope Laboratories releases round out the extras. An Easter Egg (highlight the invisible wrench icon to left of the extras screen) only takes you to the DVD production credits.

  - Eric Cotenas


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