TELLURIDE – As University of Utah economics student Tim DeChristopher stood at the steps of a 2008 Utah BLM Oil and Gas lease auction in Salt Lake City, he knew that he and his fellow protesters simply were not being heard.
With thousands of acres of pristine Utah wilderness at stake, DeChristopher believed merely protesting the hotly contested auction – hastily arranged in the last weeks of George W. Bush’s presidency – wasn’t good enough. His concerns, not just about the fate of these wild lands but also about the escalating climate change heralding an unlivable future, would be unheard inside the auction room, unheeded as oil and gas giants gambled with the planet’s future.
And so the college student and environmental activist took one of the boldest steps the contemporary environmental movement has ever seen. He stepped through the doorway and into the auction where, under false pretenses, DeChristopher bid on and won 22,000 acres of land worth $1.7 million.
And with that single act of civil disobedience, DeChristopher’s voice was finally heard.
The compelling story of this young activist, whose actions at the 2008 auction ultimately safeguarded those parcels from oil and gas exploitation, is the centerpiece of Telluride filmmakers Beth and George Gage’s most recent film, Bidder 70. The film has been proclaiming DeChristopher’s story and message since he was sent to prison for his actions in July of 2011, winning praise and film festival awards along the way. But the film, and DeChristopher’s story, will take on a new life this week as a special Earth Day screening will coincide with DeChristopher’s release from prison this Sunday.
On Monday, April 22, the Wilkinson Public Library (in cooperation with filmmakers Gage & Gage Productions) hosts a special screening of the film and panel discussion with three local activists who have been involved with DeChristopher’s fight. Following the panel discussion and film will be a live stream from Salt Lake City of Tim DeChristopher's address to the nation following his release from federal prison.
The Telluride screening will coincide with Bidder 70 screenings across the country, as part of a special crowd-funded "theatrical-on-demand" format. The film’s distributor Gathr Films will also live-stream the question and answer session with DeChristopher and the Gages at other Earth Day screenings that will take place at theatres, schools, churches and community centers nationwide.
According to filmmakers Beth and George Gage, DeChristopher’s release from prison represents a new page in this inspiring story of the power of one person to initiate necessary discussion and positive change.
“He wants to talk,” says George Gage of the DeChristopher, “and I’m sure he’s going to have some incredible things to say.”
DeChristopher’s story has, after all, evolved into much more than that of just a college student who, with a bidding paddle, disrupted a federal oil and gas auction and in so doing saved public lands around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks from ruin. As Bidder 70 writer Beth Gage explains it, she and her husband began filming DeChristopher just weeks after the December 2008 auction, and they initially thought the film would focus on efforts to save public lands. But as they followed the story and got to know the young man who brought it to bear, the film developed into much more.
“There are larger issues here – of environmental degradation, climate change and social justice,” Beth Gage says of the film, which has won 17 film festival awards and opens in New York on May 17.
Bidder 70 follows DeChristopher as he embarks upon a new and mostly unintended life journey as the face and the voice of the new movement for climate justice, exemplified by his promotion of civil disobedience. As the case against him becomes more convoluted, the film chronicles DeChristopher’s personal evolution into a warrior for his generation’s future, sacrificing years of his life in the process.
According to Beth Gage, the film tells just the beginning of DeChristopher’s story. “The film can augment Tim’s message in a big way,” she says, of Bidder 70’s role in keeping DeChristopher’s message alive when he was silenced by imprisonment. Now, DeChristopher will be able to interact with filmgoers, and will finally be able to speak to some of the issues raised by the film.
“We’re very excited to finally be able to have Tim out there with the film, and be able to share in the reception,” Beth Gage says.
“Our whole purpose in doing these documentaries is that we really get involved in the cause and its message, and one of the most important things to us is how far and how many people we can reach with that message,” George Gage continues.
Gage & Gage Productions has created other documentary films, including award-winning American Outrage and Fire on the Mountain; the filmmakers say, however, that telling DeChristopher’s story has been inspirational.
In addition to the live stream with DeChristopher, the Monday screening will feature a panel of three Telluride residents – Chris Myers, Dan Chancellor and David Glynn – who have been closely involved with DeChristopher’s case, and who will discuss the importance of civil disobedience in a democratic society.
The Telluride Earth Day event takes place Monday, April 22, at the Palm Theater in Telluride, beginning at 6 p.m. with a panel discussion with the local activists involved with the DeChristopher case, the film screening at 7 p.m. and the streamed discussion with DeChristopher around 8 p.m. Admission is $10.