• Thanks so much! I really appreciate the opportunity to chat!

  • That will be a great conversation– Joe is an amazing filmmaker and the story is really harrowing.

  • Each of the three seemed to have unique stories– Josh was the school president, a straight-A student, a careful student of how a driver behaves on and off the track (he always remembers to thank his sponsors, etc.) Brandon was a charming brawler who was growing up in a double-wide trailer in NC, and whose parents had struggled with drugs through the years. And Annabeth was a sparkling personality who was trying to figure out how to balance her love of racing against her desire to be a regular kid. Each of them was so smart, funny, charismatic.

  • I think there’s a natural overlap between NASCAR fans and a support for military. The armed forces do a “flyover” before every race, at the end of the national anthem, and they see it as a great recruiting opportunity.

  • I should also mention that Racing Dreams is going to be broadcast on the PBS series POV next Thursday the 23rd. That’s the same series that ran If a Tree Falls, and it’s really terrific. Here’s a link to their site, which people should check to find out about when their local PBS stations are broadcasting it. http://www.pbs.org/pov/racingdreams/

  • Yes- it is overwhelmingly white. And overwhelmingly male. One of the main story lines in our film is about a girl who is breaking into the boy’s sport. She says at the beginning of the movie that she wants to be the first woman to win the daytona 500, and she’s got the driving skills and personality to make that a real possibility. Her name is Annabeth Barnes and she now is 17 and races full sized stock cars, beating grown men at one of the most competitive tracks in NC. Another of the kids– Josh Hobson– is also doing really well racing cars. The third racer in our film [SPOILER ALERT] ends his career at the end of the film realizing that he does not have the money to compete. He is likely going to join the marines when he graduates from high school at the end of the year. And I think his story is one that can be told again and again in America.

  • Right– the film is sort of about racing, but really it’s about having a dream, and struggling to make ends meet. It’s also about adolescence– being 12 and figuring out romance for the first time, figuring our your relationship with your parents, figuring out who you are and who you want to be. Someone described it as “Talladega Nights meets Catcher in the Rye”, which I thought was pretty great.

    I was nervous to premiere it at the Tribeca Film Festival because New York doc fans aren’t exactly known for being NASCAR lovers– but it won the Best Documentary award, and was 2nd place in the Audience Award.

    It’s also on Netflix and itunes and DVDs (with some great extras) are available from http://www.RacingDreamsFilm.com

  • Sam and I met when I had just finished another documentary, Street Fight, about Cory Booker’s first run for mayor of Newark. He was helping me with festival outreach on that film, and one day my wife came home from work and said “you’ll never guess what happened today– four federal agents arrested that guy Daniel McGowan.” so we started shooting.

  • As we switch over to Racing Dreams, I know the idea of a film about kids who dream of becoming NASCAR drivers might not — on it’s face — seem very relevant to the FDL community. But there was actually a somewhat political reason that I made it. Before making the film I could not name two NASCAR drivers. Since NASCAR is the second-biggest spectator sport in America, that bothered me— there was a huge part of my own country’s culture that I knew nothing about. And I thought there was some overlap between the NASCAR fans and red-state politics. But what I found when I was making the film—which is NOT explicitly political—is that the left shouldn’t give up on the NASCAR fans. And of course, that was the same time that NC went Blue for Obama.

  • Right, these were very controversial fires– even within a very radical part of the movement. Among mainstream environmentalists they seemed very counterproductive. It was explained to us that there was a dynamic during those years when people were trying to become “more radical than thou”– and they became more interested in identifying heretics within their group, than winning converts. It really was a major reason that the movement fell apart at the end of those years.

  • And in the end, people on all sides were happy with the film. It’s odd but our press notes have a blurb from the former spokesman for the ELF (who still thinks arson is a legitimate tactic) saying that the film is an important story that asks hard questions and should be seen by wide audiences. And the Federal Prosecutor who put the ELF members in prison wrote a blurb saying essentially the same thing.

  • Access was really difficult. The activists didn’t trust us at first because they thought New Yorkers couldn’t possibly understand radical environmentalism, and they feared that we would do what the MS media always did: describe them as crazy hippie terrorist. And the law enforcement folks and arson victims feared that we would be sympathetic to the ELF and would edit their words out of context or try to make them look bad. So we spent a lot of time explaining that we were genuinely interested in their points of view. We thought the most interesting film would come out of letting people’s best arguments bang into each other rather than setting up straw men and knocking them down.

    We developed a point of view of course, as we made the film, but it was a complex point of view. Our perspective was stretched again and again, and we try — in editing the film — to take the audience on the same zig-zaggy trail that we took in shooting it.

  • There are some people who feel that the ELF fires drew important attention to issues that were being overlooked. But most people– including the ELF members who we spoke with– felt like it was not an effective way of making change. Folks in Vail told us that prior to the arsons they had been building coalitions of yuppie environmentalists who wanted to take their kids for walks in the woods, old lady bird watchers, hippies, etc. But as soon as the fires happened, the coalition shattered and people said ‘I don’t want anything to do with a group that is doing that kind of stuff.” The conversations turned from the resort’s expansion into national forest, to suddenly being all about arson.

    There’s another arson in the film of a horse slaughterhouse that people who support the ELF point to as the best argument for the group. It was a brutal facility that was dumping so much blood into the towns water supply that it sometimes knocked out their filtering system. People had protested for years to no avail, and in the middle of the night, the ELF burned it down. The company couldn’t get permits to re-open, and the groups supporters saw it as a real victory.

    It says a lot that all of the members of the ELF had abandoned arson on their own– before they were caught– because they ended up having moral problems with it and doubted it’s long term effectiveness.

  • One thing that has been interesting as we have released the film is how much overlap there is with the issues currently being debated in the occupy movement. When the film came out this summer, people saw it as a historical film. Reviewers and audiences thought it was quaint that ten years ago there had been an activist movement in America. And then a few months later– wham, the OWS movement started. Police responded with pepperspray– just like they had in the 90s– and an argument began within the activist community of what kinds of tactics are appropriate. The film has been screened by Occupy Oakland and other places and is hopefully giving some structure to the arguments, as people discuss what actions are effective, what are ethical, and what are the potential legal consequences of different tactics.

    The film has also been a cautionary tale to government, because there are some responses to activism that radicalize people and push them out of the democratic process (like pepperspraying people engaged in non-violent civil disobedience) and other responses that bring people into the democratic argument.

    There’s a lot we can learn by looking back at the lessons of just a few years ago.

  • Right. One of the things that really surprised us was how nuanced people’s views were. It’s a really polarized issue with a lot of emotions on both sides and we expected that the interviews would be people screaming at each other. But instead we discovered that almost everyone who had thought a lot about these issues and had spent a lot of time in this world, had very complex feelings about the fires and the issues they raised. And this was whether they were members of the ELF or the people who spent years trying to catch them.

  • Thanks Gregg. If people haven’t seen it yet, there are some upcoming screenings, and DVDs available, and it’s also on Netflix and itunes.

    Our website is http://www.IfaTreeFallsFilm.com, and there’s a place to find out about the screenings there. And, of course, there’s also a FB page that’s pretty active.

  • There are people — probably the police captain in the film qualifies– who feel that “terrorist” is a word that creates more heat than light. It generates a lot of emotion but doesn’t really clarify things– and in some cases, it clouds issues.

  • Right- that’s a big question of the film– how do we define terrorism? No one has ever been hurt in an ELF arson and they consider that a very important distinction between them and, say, Al Qaeda. They see themselves as the Boston Tea Party– symbolic property destruction. But the people whose businesses were attacked felt terrorized and to them, that’s the essence of terrorism. But it’s a tricky question. The police captain who worked for years trying to catch these guys said, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” and he thinks it makes more sense to just put that label aside and instead focus on crime or non-crime.

  • This story really dropped in our laps– we were not planning to make a film about Daniel or the ELF but he was arrested out of my wife’s office (she was running a domestic violence organization) and he seemed like such an unlikely person to have these fires in his past. He had grown up in Queens, was the son of a NY cop, and was a business major in college. So we wanted to figure out what had happened and spend the next few years doing that.

  • Hi everyone! Looking forward to talking with you about the film/s and the issues they raise.

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