The title of the no-frills documentary "Who Bombed Judi Bari?" is not a rhetorical question; the filmmakers are offering a $50,000 reward for answers. The 1990 attack on two Northern California environmental activists remains an unsolved case, though over the years it has been at the center of media scrutiny and a landmark 1st Amendment ruling against the FBI and Oakland police.
Darryl Cherney, who produced the film, was in a car with Judi Bari when a pipe bomb exploded. Members of the direct-action group Earth First!, they were organizing a protest initiative, modeled after the civil rights movement's Mississippi Summer, to save old-growth redwoods from clear-cutting. The subsequent explosives-transporting charges against the injured duo defy logic, as the feature convincingly argues.
Though its early sections feel repetitive and self-congratulatory, the doc's tension builds in the way director Mary Liz Thomson uses archival material, much of it from TV news. Rather than adding voice-over narration, she intercuts footage of Bari's 1997 deposition for the federal civil rights suit she and Cherney had filed. Her testimony, just weeks before she succumbed to cancer, shows her passion for justice undimmed.
Within its limited scope, the film is a compelling tribute to Bari, a fiery speaker whose background as a union organizer put her in a unique position to bridge the cultural divide between "hippie" activists and rank-and-file loggers. Long before Julia Butterfly Hill became famous for tree-sitting, Bari was on the frontline, and was targeted for her efforts.