Who Bombed Judi Bari?: Film Review

A moving if sometimes overly exhaustive examination of the mystery behind the 1990 car bombing of environmental activists.

Mary Liz Thomson's documentary concerns the unsolved, car bombing of two environmental activists, one of whom produced the project.

That its titular question goes unanswered is one of the more intriguing elements of Mary Liz Thompson’s documentary about the near-fatal, 1990 Oakland car bombing of environmental activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. The only film ever to be released with the promise of a reward--$50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the bomber--Who Bombed Judi Bari? is an engrossing account of the case.

Bari herself is the emotional center of the proceedings, despite the fact that she died of cancer seven years after the incident. Much of the film’s running time consists of excerpts from a videotaped deposition, shot just weeks before her death, that she gave in court as part of a civil suit brought by her and Cherney (the film’s producer) against the FBI and the Oakland Police Department, who incredibly arrested them immediately after the bombing for the crime of of transporting explosives. The charges were later dropped.

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Both Bari and Cherney had attracted plenty of enemies, thanks to their vigorous protesting against the cutting down of redwood trees in Northern California. Their car was bombed as the pair was heading to a musical benefit to kick of a three month period of demonstrations dubbed “Redwood Summer.”

Composed entirely of archival footage largely taken from television coverage of the case, the film chronicles the events leading up to the bombing and its aftermath, sometimes in too exhaustive fashion. There are far too many scenes of the duo’s musical performances—they frequently performed original folk songs as part of the demonstrations—although it is nifty to see a clip of Bonnie Raitt singing her hit “Angel from Montgomery.”

That this documentary has arrived decades after the event in question is a testament to the indefatigableness of the filmmakers, even if it necessarily lends an air of staleness to the proceedings. But if its central mystery remains unsolved, the film serves as an effectively moving tribute to Bari, whose tireless passion for her cause is well evident even when she’s in her severely weakened state.       

Opens Nov. 16 (Hokey Pokey Productions)

Director/editor: Mary Liz Thompson.

Producer/director of photography: Daryl Cheyney.

Executive producers: Elyse Katz.

Not rated, 93 min.