Title: Who Bombed Judi Bari?
Director: Mary Liz Thomson
An Earth First! environmental activist who battled the logging industry’s clear-cutting of old forest redwoods in Northern California, Judi Bari was the victim of a 1990 car bomb that left her seriously injured. Then, she and her passenger found themselves under arrest, accused by the FBI and Oakland Police Department of being eco-terrorists who accidentally detonated their own bomb. “Who Bombed Judi Bari?,” then, is both a document of her eventual exoneration in the wake of a sham investigation and various false affidavits, but also a nonfiction tribute to the steel-spined spirit of Bari and other dedicated non-violent activists who, in standing up for their principles, coped as well with terrible and nefarious push-back from powerful governmental bureaucracy.
The movie is built around deposition testimony from Bari (pronounced “berry”) in a 2002 civil suit, which gives it a nice framing device from which to flash back and forward in time. Darryl Cherney, the other victim of the bombing, is a producer on the project, so the movie obviously has an invested point-of-view. But its evidence is so overwhelming and completely obvious (in addition to being backed up by a $4.4 million vindication in a jury trial in which six of seven law enforcement officers were essentially tabbed as having framed the victims) that dispassionate objectivity is not a tone required for this story.
Besides, “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” doesn’t aim for an arcing overview of Bari’s home base organization, Earth First!, in the manner that the recent “We Are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists” offers up a fairly comprehensive history of the decentralized online collective Anonymous. It doesn’t have to. In focusing — as its title augurs — more specifically on the still unsolved act of violence perpetrated against Bari and Cherney, director Mary Liz Thomson’s movie tells a story with much more gripping immediacy, and then allows viewers to connect the dots of incompetence, malicious disregard or darker conspiracy in their mind however they might choose.
Its technical packaging is fairly straightforward, further buoyed by home video footage from various protests and rallies, as well as newscast reports tracking the unfolding coverage of the case. The amazing thing is just how focused, articulate and utterly unflappable Bari (and Cherney) remain in the face of such enormous difficulties and pressure. Thomson’s film will make you think, and it will make you mad. It will also make you think about how Bari and Cherney didn’t merely succumb to pure anger, but instead focused and used that energy to work within the justice system and impact change. It’s a positive, important lesson that’s even bigger than the stirring environmental tale at its core.
NOTE: “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” opens exclusively in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7; Ed Begley and other personalities will join the filmmakers in attendance. For more information on this, and the movie in general, visit its website at www.WhoBombedJudiBari.com.
Written by: Brent Simon
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.