Editor’s Note: “Bidder 70,” made by Telluride locals George and Beth Gage, premiered last May at Mountainfilm in Telluride. Last spring, the documentary was featured at New York City’s Human Rights Watch Festival. When Michael Moore invited the Gages to screen “Bidder 70″ at his Traverse City Film Festival this past summer, the judges honored it with a “Best American Film” award. (We published the story about that victory on August 12.) “Bidder 70″ is currently being featured at the Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film Center “Voices in Action” series. Below is a review. (And once again, congratulations to the Gages. You are doing yourselves and your hometown proud.)
Review: Bidder 70
By Bev Questad
“Bidder 70” is the true story of the frustrating, discouraging irony that sometimes befalls the good guy who stands up for the right side. I call it the Christ Phenomenon.
America was built on the rebel, the protestor – those demanding religious freedom, those protesting taxation without representation and eventually those marching for equality. The movements were victorious in the long run, but the leaders often got the shaft.
Beth and George Gage, with hundred of TV commercial credits, became captivated by Tim DeChristopher’s story. (No joke on the name, by the way). They begin their doc with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”
In the beginning, there is an auction of federal land in Utah. Bidding starts at $2. Protestors amass outside the hall, furious that in President Bush II’s last days in office public land adjacent to sacred wilderness areas is being made available to oil and gas development without oversight.
A lone 27-year-old University of Utah economics student notices the protestors and walks through the line. He comes to the auction hall and curiously enters. Without premeditation or credentials, he is given a bidding paddle. On inspiration, he raises his paddle to end the bidding on successive pieces of pristine land. By the time he owes $1.7 million, he is discovered without resources or intent and thrown out.
Two months later, after the election of Barack Obama, incoming interior secretary Ken Salazar declares the auction illegal. That should be a victory for the public and an end of the story. But there is another worrisome tale, and that’s what “Bidder 70” is all about.
Even though DeChristopher was instrumental in bringing attention to the auction, and even though the auction was declared invalid and no land was transferred to anyone, since he had participated as a bogus bidder he had committed two felonies.
In the end, Tim’s fate would be determined by Dee Benson, a federal judge at the Utah State courthouse who had the power to sentence Tim up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
And those who held the illegal auction — what was the consequence for them? Robert Redford says, “Tim saw something terribly wrong. And because of his moral commitment to the land he put forth what amounts to a peaceful protest to try to stop it. He just did what he thought was his constitutional right. In the meantime we have Wall Street sending this country into the tank. No one is going to jail. It is unconscionable – profoundly wrong — that Tim is the one who should go to prison.”
Terry Root was part of the Stanford team winning the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for their work on climate change. She was Tim’s inspiration. He had been to a talk she gave where she had remarked that her generation had failed the world in its custody of the environment.
Root believes that the prime moral imperative for today is protecting the environment and dealing with the consequences of global warming. She sees social activism for the environment as “the most loving stance for the people around us.”
In the days leading up to his hearing and then his sentencing, Tim co-founds Peaceful Uprising, which is dedicated to “defending a livable future through empowering non-violent action.”
There are marches and street occupations in support of environmental protectionism and Tim DeChristopher. He grows as a speaker, using metaphors like fingers of a fist, waves of an ocean, and terminology from football that rallies ever larger crowds.
Notables from the ranks of the original Vietnam War protestors visit. Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, holds an impromptu concert with his daughter singing, “We shall not be moved” and “We are standing for Tim DeChristopher.”
Richard Harris, imprisoned for not reporting to his draft board during the mandatory conscription Vietnam days, gives Tim advice on how to handle prison, should he be sentenced. He advises, “This is not for the timid.”
Beth and George Gage are filmmakers of social conscience to support and Tim DeChristopher’s story is one of the most important stories of our time to know.*
*We added the boldface for emphasis.