TELLURIDE – Beth and George Gage are always looking for a good story.
But to the Gages, longtime Telluride residents who began their film careers in L.A. decades ago, a good story is not simply one that holds entertainment value. It is one that, in the words of producer George Gage, “has the power to make a difference.”
Two of the riveting stories the Gages have captured on film will be previewed this weekend at the 2009 Mountainfilm Festival. Their newest project about environmental activist Tim DeChristopher and a follow-up to their award-winning documentary American Outrage will both be showcased in five-minute shorts Sunday, May 24, starting at 10 a.m. at the Sheridan Opera House. Special Mountainfilm guest DeChristopher will speak with Mountainfilm Festival Director David Holbrooke after the showing.
The Gages’ as yet unfinished documentary about DeChristopher focuses on the controversial environmentalist whose bold actions at a Utah oil and gas lease auction sale caught the attention of the national media and ultimately led to the Obama Administration’s removal of nearly 22,500 acres of public lands near the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks from the market. DeChristopher, a 27-year-old economics major at the University of Utah, became the nucleus of an environmental firestorm when he bid on what amounted to $1.7 million worth of land, for which he never intended to pay. In the process, DeChristopher became the de facto architect of one of the contemporary environmental movement’s most cunning – and ultimately valuable – acts of civil disobedience.
“It was such a bold, brilliant act because nobody was hurt and no property was destroyed,” says the film’s writer/director Beth Gage. “He derailed the auction, and none of the parcels went through. That was a very intelligent action.”
The Gages met DeChristopher by chance at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, Calif., where they were showing American Outrage. DeChristopher’s demeanor, as much as his story, sparked the Gages’ interest.
“He’s not necessarily a monkey wrencher; he’s not out to hurt people or burn anyone’s property. He’s a very moral, ethical, thoughtful person, and the global climate crisis has him completely distraught,” says Beth Gage.
DeChristopher now faces up to ten years in jail and $750,000 in fines, a punishment many in the environmental activist community, and the Gages, consider a travesty of justice.
Another compelling component to DeChristopher’s story, and something that struck the filmmaker couple, was that DeChristopher’s “outside the box” actions have actually had tangible results, as opposed to those seen by the subjects of the Gages’ documentary film American Outrage. The Dann sisters have fought a decades-long (and mostly lawful) fight to protect their ancestral grazing lands in north-central Nevada from devastating mining operations, to little avail.
Explains George Gage: “With his single act of civil disobedience, [DeChristopher] got some results. The American Indians have fought their fight the traditional way – writing their congressman, picketing, doing all the things you’re supposed to do – to no avail. They’ve been playing by American rules and getting nowhere.”
Creating documentary films that give voice to stories of environmental crisis or political injustice, and that have the power to move audiences to action, has historically been the Gages’ calling card. Their repertoire of films include telling the stories of the WWII 10th Mountain Division (Fire on the Mountain, 1995) and of clean drinking water and the Blue Planet Run’s consciousness-raising initiative (Troubled Waters, 2005).
American Outrage (originally screened as Our Land, Our Life) won the People’s Choice Award and the Spirit and Advocacy Award at Mountainfilm in 2007. The film explores the decades-long battle waged by two Native American sisters, Carrie and Mary Dann, on government policies that seek to destroy their livelihood, and in effect, their Western Shoshone culture.
The Gages will provide an update on the Danns’ moving story, a six-minute short titled Crisis at Mt. Tenabo, at this weekend’s Mountainfilm.
“It’s really an American story, one that tends to stir a lot of guilt about how the Native American people have been treated,” George Gage says. In addition, it also presents a riveting illustration of the long held traditions of the Native American people and their way of life, and how that way of life can, ideally, coexist seamlessly with the tenets of preserving the environment.
The Gages have now won a total of 12 awards for American Outrage; in addition to the two awards won at Mountainfilm two years ago, they have also won Best Documentary Awards at the San Luis Obispo International, the American Indian and the Frozen River film festivals; Grand Prize for best film at the Montreal Indigenous Film Festival; Audience Awards at the Ashland Independent, Ashville and Frozen River film festivals; Best Environmental Film at the Boulder International Film Festival; a Silver Remi award at Houston’s WorldFest; and a Telly Award in the category of Best Television Documentary.
“I’m becoming more and more confident that films can and do make a difference,” George Gage says. “In the case of the Dann sisters, the issue is now, finally, getting noticed.”
And in the still rapidly developing case of DeChristopher, the Gages say they hope that their film (the full version of which is scheduled for completion by next year) will bring to light the dire consequences he may face on account of his actions to derail the sale and ultimate degradation of some of Utah’s most pristine public lands.
For more information on the Gages’ film showings this weekend, or about DeChristopher’s visit to Mountainfilm, visit the Mountainfilm website at www.mountainfilm.org.