03/29/2012 05:02 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2012

'Who Bombed Judi Bari?': Documentary Honors Environmentalist, Outlines Assassination Attempt (VIDEO)

SAN FRANCISCO -- On May 24, 1990, a car bomb ripped through environmental activist Judi Bari's Subaru while she was driving with fellow activist Darryl Cherney in Oakland. Cherney was injured, and Bari, a 40-year-old single mother of two, was nearly killed in the assassination attempt.

But instead of focusing on recovery, Bari spent the final years of her life fighting to overturn FBI and police accusations that she had planted the bomb herself.

In a new documentary "Who Bombed Judi Bari?" Cherney and director Mary Liz Thomson chronicle Bari and Cherney's battle for truth that eventually cleared their names, saved thousands of acres of old-growth redwood forest and defeated the FBI and police in a $4.4 million civil rights lawsuit.


Though Bari died of breast cancer in 1997, she acts as the film's narrator through raw footage gathered by Thomson and more than 20 other videographers over the decade following the incident.

"This has been a very important project for me," Thomson told The Huffington Post.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Bari was an outspoken leader against the clear cut logging of Northern California's old-growth redwood forests. Her nonviolent protests against the logging companies were so effective that she began receiving death threats from her opposition. Bari and Cherney were championing the Redwood Summer campaign, a growing and successful movement against the logging, on the day of the bombing.

"I will never forget the day it happened," said Thomson. Thomson, a longtime activist and filmmaker, knew Bari and Cherney personally before the attack and watched the brutal bombing unfold on the news from her home in San Francisco. "I picked up my camera and went to Oakland that night," she said. "Someone tried to take them out for speaking up."

Though Bari and Cherney were originally arrested and accused of transporting explosives, the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. One year later, they filed a federal civil rights suit, claiming that the FBI and police falsely arrested them and attempted to frame them as terrorists to discredit their activism.

Thomson recalled the frustration at the time. "I think when most people just caught sound bites, they thought, 'Oh, they were some of those ecoterrorists carrying bombs around,'" she told HuffPost. "But Judi was a constant advocate for nonviolence, and she didn't give up."

In the years that followed the attack, Bari and Cherney worked tirelessly to protect the Northern California redwood forests from devastating clear-cut logging, finally saving 3,000 acres of the ancient Headwaters Forest. And five years after her death, Cherney and Bari were awarded $4.4 million by FBI agents and Oakland Police officers for First and Fourth Amendment violations in the investigation surrounding the bombing.

"The goal of this movie is to show that you can win," said Thomson. "But it takes a movement. And it takes work and nonviolence."

Thomson explained that while the film's chief mission is to act as a tribute to Bari's efforts and to reignite nonviolent activism, she also hopes it will push to find an answer to the question that lends the film its name: Who bombed Judi Bari? Though the FBI and the police were convicted of mishandling the case, the bomber remains a mystery.

In an interview in the film, Bari, terminally ill with cancer, reaffirmed her commitment to peaceful activism.

"Terrorism is a horrible tactic, and we know that the lumber companies will use it," she said. "But terrorism cannot stand up to our nonviolence."

Watch "Who Bombed Judi Bari?" when the film visits the Oakland International Film Festival on April 8, and check out the preview in the clip below:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Judi Bari died in 2000. The year of her death was 1997.