When Suzanne Savoie’s face first appeared on the screen, several audience members booed and hissed. One person even called out “Snitch!”
The second time she appeared in the documentary, being interviewed by the director, there was some grumbling and hissing, but more subdued than the first time.
Savoie’s face was popping up in the documentary “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” which played at the Ashland Independent Film Festival over the weekend.
After the film was over, a brief question and answer session was held with the directors of the documentary, Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman.
One audience member, who would only identify himself as “Rotn,” stood up and asked them why they showed compassion for snitches who cooperate with the government and send their friends to jail.
Savoie, who was seated at the front of the theater, stood up and pointedly told the man that things look different when the FBI threatens you with a life sentence.
“I came here because there’s been so little ability for people in my situation to speak out,” Savoie said later during an interview. “I feel like people use me as a scapegoat when they can’t get to the root of what they are worried about – the destruction of the environment.”
Curry and Cullman’s documentary chronicles the actions of several members of the Earth Liberation Front, from their start in 1996 to their eventual arrests in 2005 during the FBI’s Operation Backfire.
The ELF was responsible for a series of arsons across Oregon from 1996-2001, causing millions of dollars in property damage. The FBI considers the ELF eco-terrorists, and the nation’s “Number one domestic terrorist threat.”
Many people, like Rotn, claim that the directors were too soft on the ELF members who agreed to testify against their co-defendants, such as Savoie. The information provided by these informants helped the FBI convict a total of seven former ELF members.
“She snitched out the people she took these actions with,” said Rotn. “I think it’s pretty disrespectful for her to show up for a film about the ELF, that was mostly about Daniel McGowan [co-defendant], who she helped put away. I take it extra-personally because good friends of mine went to prison because of her.”
“I think there needs to be a little more compassion for people in these positions – Suzanne’s position,” said Tim Lewis, an Oregon activist based in Eugene. “I feel that sometimes you’re being too harsh.”
“I understand why people feel passionately about this issue,” said Curry, “And all the other issues that this movie covered.”
“I’m not pretending it’s an easy thing,” said Rotn. “But it kind of comes with the territory of committing illegal acts. You have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.”
“My goal in this movie was to show all different points of view,” said Curry. “Our film takes an incredibly complicated issue and boils it down into 85 minutes. It’s a very controversial topic.”