The Forest for the Trees | Chicago Reader

The Forest for the Trees

Fascinating but frustrating, this documentary by Bernadine Mellis circles the May 1990 car bombing of Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, who were subsequently accused by the FBI and the Oakland police of having constructed the bomb themselves in a plot against the timber industry. The 55-minute video uneasily conglomerates three related stories: a fawning biography of Bari, whose aggressive defense of the giant redwoods was cut short by her 1997 death from breast cancer; a warm personal portrait of Mellis's father, the dour but idealistic civil rights attorney Dennis Cunningham; and a blurry chronicle of the civil lawsuit he argued against four FBI agents and three Oakland cops for violating Bari's First Amendment rights. His victory resulted in a $4.4 million settlement for Bari's estate, but Mellis's reconstruction of this circuitous path to justice through transcripts and courtroom sketches fails to provide the narrative spine her video so badly needs.

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