Who is "Bidder 70?" A new film from husband and wife documentarians George and Beth Gage examines the case of 30-year-old environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, who derailed a federal oil and gas lease auction for public land in southern Utah in 2008.
The film, which was shown this week at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York City, follows DeChristopher for three years during the much-delayed criminal investigation and federal trial that culminated in a guilty verdict and his two-year prison sentence in March 2011.
Through the film, DeChristopher's story is punctuated by delays in the trial that ultimately forced him to confront the fate that had been looming over him for so long. Emboldened by the support he received from members of his Unitarian church and the Salt Lake City-based group Peaceful Uprising, DeChristopher visited mountaintop removal mining sites in West Virginia and lent his voice to rallies for action against climate change before his trial.
The film premiered in May at the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride, Colo. The Gages told HuffPost that the film's initial screenings in Colorado were sold out and "Bidder 70" has received subsequent attention from filmmaker Michael Moore.
While shooting the film, the Gages spent a significant amount of time alongside DeChristopher and say they became quite close with him. For George, one of the most interesting aspects of the process was watching DeChristopher grow as an activist. He told HuffPost, "To see him to grow, to such a leader, in such a short period of time, was absolutely inspiring."
While defending his actions, DeChristopher explains in the film that he did not enter the 2008 auction intending to bid on land parcels and disrupt the proceedings, but felt compelled to do so after he realized how easy it would be to bid and take a meaningful stand against drilling on the public lands.
Beth Gage explained that despite the illegality of his actions, they "try to present him in a very realistic light, but also to show you that people can get into these situations and we shouldn't shy away from that because it was an illegal situation."
In May, DeChristopher appealed his sentence with the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver. Although a decision has not yet been rendered, George Gage said he has "no confidence in the appeal." He told HuffPost that he was present for a hearing on the appeal, and he found it "very, very disappointing." Beth said she believes "They didn't respect [his] lawyer's time."
The Gages explained that with a favorable appeal decision unlikely, DeChristopher will probably serve out the remainder of his sentence, which he began serving in July 2011. Yet they hinted that he could see an opportunity for early release for good behavior.
Despite the prolonged legal battle, the Gages, who maintain contact with DeChristopher, say that he is in good spirits. "He's a really strong guy," Beth remarked. In May, DeChristopher was transferred from a prison in northern California to a federal facility in Littleton, Colorado, where he is closer to family.
In March, DeChristopher's case received renewed attention when his supporters said that he had been placed in an isolation unit at the California facility where he was housed. His isolation came after an "unidentified congressman ... lodged a complaint" over "an ill-advised word in an email about one of his legal-defense donors," DeChristopher's lawyers told the Associated Press. He was released from the isolation cell shortly after.
With the increasing prominence of DeChristopher's story, and "Bidder 70" showing at festivals across the country, his case has also been seen as a rallying point for climate action. Beth Gage told HuffPost that while filming "Bidder 70," she was pleased to see that "young people are waking up and they're saying 'Hey this is our future and we don't want to squander it.'"
"One thing [that] has become clear to me is that Tim DeChristopher’s journey did not start with a single heroic act of disrupting an oil lease sale during the George W. Bush administration, nor will it end inside Barack Obama’s prison cell," writes ClimateStoryTellers' Subhankar Banerjee. "Let us stay engaged."
Writing last year about DeChristopher disrupting the land auctions, author and HuffPost blogger Bill McKibben said, "They were gorgeous pieces of land that he protected -- but far more, he was acting on behalf of every landscape left on the planet."