Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Eco-savior story: Mary Liz Thomson/Darryl Cherney's doc, WHO BOMBED JUDI BARI?

Evidently, there are tree-huggers, and there are tree-huggers. The ones you'll meet in the new and quite anger-producing documentary, WHO BOMBED JUDI BARI?, are not the kind you met last year in If a Tree Falls: a Story of the Earth Liberation Front. Some of the folk pictured in that "Oscar"-nominated doc could be described as eco-terrorists, though they were little like the murderous terrorists who flew into our World Trade Center or who kill their own countrymen/women/children in the current middle east.

The people you'll meet in Who Bombed Judi Bari? don't come close to qualifying as eco-terrorists: They're adamantly opposed to any violence, including the kind that might burn a building or destroy equipment. Even the controversial "tree-spiking" -- in which metal spikes are driven into tall redwoods (the venue of the film is Northern California) so that, when an attempt is made to fell the tree, the loggers' equipment will be damaged -- was found to be too dangerous to the loggers and so outlawed by the Earth First movement, to which Ms Bari (shown above) and her partner/
companion Darryl Cherney belonged.

This new documentary, directed and edited by Mary Liz Thomson (shown at left) and produced by Cherney (shown below) covers the before, during and after of a particularly violent event that occurred on May 24, 1990, in which a bomb exploded under the driver's seat of the car which Bari was driving and in which Cherney was a passenger. The two for some time had been prime organizers of the Earth First movement, which targeted the lumber companies that were then de-foresting via clear-cutting huge areas of the Pacific Northwest. Thomson and Cherney show us how, via canny organization; specific, attainable goals; and non-violent protest the Earth First movement was succeeding in rousing the general populace to taking seriously this despoiling of its environment.

The pair (pictured above, with Cherney on the left) may, in fact, have been getting too good at all this. Earth First had even managed to help get lumber workers organized, unionized, and actually working with the group for the good of the environment. Eventually -- and pre-bombing -- Ms Bari received death threats (like the one shown below).

The Mendocino County Police would not investigate these threats, however: "We don't have the man-power," Bari was told. "Turn up dead, and then we'll investigate." Yet immediately after the bomb exploded (you can see the hole beneath the driver's seat, below) both Bari (horribly injured) and Cherney (hurt not as badly) were arrested by the Oakland police, and with the help of the FBI, said to have known that the bomb was in the car and to have been engaged in terrorist activity.

So "certain" were the police and FBI that the pair was guilty that no search was even done for any other possible perpetrators. Little wonder this event-- which TrustMovies admits to not having heard about until he saw this film -- sparked such controversy at the time and resulted in a major law suit years after the event (and after the death of Ms Bari from breast cancer in 1997, at the age of 47) against the Oakland Police and the FBI. This makes up the final third of the film and for anyone, like me, who did not follow the event and its outcome, the resulting movie is suspenseful, surprising and quite moving (below is Ms Bari, giving sworn testimony, even as she lies dying from the cancer).

The aim of the documentary is to clearly lay out the facts of this case, as understood by Bari, Cherney and the Earth First group, and to educate us in the history of the movement, what it accomplished and how extraordinarily crass and, well, let's just say it -- fascistic -- were the actions of the police and FBI (at the behest of exactly whom, one wonders?) regarding the entire matter.

Along the way, we pick up some interesting morsels: How, in the 1980 and 90s, junk bonds and corporate raiders involved with, and sometimes owning, the lumber companies, were hugely  further despoiling the environment, below. We hear some of the music of the time, too, though, in fact, the movie could have done with a bit less of this (above). Still, the Free My Fiddle song -- composed and sung after the FBI had confiscated Cherney's and Bari's musical instruments from the bombed-out car -- is a lot of fun.

 As the documentary rolls along, it becomes ever more interesting and anger-provoking. While Bari/Cherney's evidence against the police and FBI may be somewhat circumstantial, the utter lack of evidence provided by those two groups, together with the proven lying and sleazy actions that went on from "law enforcement," paint a truly shameful, frightening picture of some of California's and the nation's supposed "guardians."

While the film does not idolize Ms Bari nor go into much of her personal life, one still comes away from it with a very strong sense that this woman was a true environmental hero. I am grateful to have seen the film, and I suspect you will be, too.  Who Bombed Judi Bari?, from Hokey Pokey Productions LLC, unrated and running 93 minutes, opens this Friday here in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and in the Los Angeles area on December 7 at Laemmle's NoHo 7.  For the opening at the latter venue, Ed Begley and other personalities will join the filmmakers in attendance.

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