Tim DeChristopher: We are all  "Bidder 70"

Tim DeChristopher: We are all “Bidder 70”

Editor’s Note: Break out the champagne. We received an email on Thursday, May 16, reminding us that the documentary made by Telluride locals George & Beth Gage about Tim DeChristopher, “Bidder 70,” a true labor of love, is finally opening in New York City. The event takes place Friday night, May 17, at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street.

“Bidder 70” is whip-smart, tightly-structured, emotionally astute, and beautifully shot. The screenings, which begin at 7:10 p.m., are followed Friday and Saturday nights only by a Q & A with Tim. “Bidder 70” runs through Thursday, May 23, at that venue.

Yes, Tim DeChristopher is a free man again. He exited the Utah federal prison on April 21, 2013, poetically just before Earth Day, Monday, April 22. He is headed for Harvard Divinity School.

Tim’s story began in the last days of the President Bush, when his administration forced through a highly disputed BLM Oil and Gas Auction to lease thousands of acres of pristine Utah land surrounding Arches, Canyonlands, and Dinosaur National Monument to the oil and gas industry. After finishing an economics exam at the University of Utah, Tim headed over to the BLM to join the protests. Countless attempts by environmental coalitions to halt the “midnight sale” had failed, and an air of hopelessness hung over the crowd. So Tim decided to do more than just protest outside. He went inside to join the heavy hitters.

Allowed to register as a bona-fide bidder, Tim took his seat amongst the oil and gas representatives and speculators in the auction room. Paddle #70 rested on his knees as the bidding began. At first, he just wanted to drive up the cost of the parcels, but Tim quickly realized that wasn’t enough and went all in. By the time guards escorted him out, Tim had bid nearly $1.8 million to win 14 parcels or 22,000 acres of pristine Utah wilderness for which he had no intention or ability to pay.

Through his derring-do, Tim had bought enough time for the Obama administration to invalidate the auction. Remarkably, despite the fact that the auction was ruled illegal, the indicted him on two federal counts for disrupting the auction.  Tim was found guilty on March 3, 2011.

Beth Gage got interested in Tim DeChristopher after reading about him in a local newspaper. One week later, she met him at the Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival. Tim and the Gages decided to collaborate on a project that would bring his outrage, actions, hopes, and situation to a global audience. “Bidder 70″ premiered at Mountainfilm in May 2012. By then Tim was serving a two-year federal prison term.

The following blog was written by Beth about the power of film. She ought to know: Tim’s story, while an extreme example to make the point, could well inspire the next generation of environmental activists to find creative new ways to save the planet and their future. In fact, that is happening now: governing boards at about 300 small colleges across the country are listening to students and withdrawing investments in gas and oil companies. And you don’t go to jail for making changes in a stock portfolio….

Tim DeChristopher is a featured speaker at Mountainfilm’s Moving Mountains Symposium on Climate Solutions, Friday, May 24.

George & Beth Gage, Mountainfilm supporters and, most recently,  creators of "Bidder 70."

George & Beth Gage, Mountainfilm supporters and, most recently, creators of “Bidder 70.”

Mountainfilm is 35, and I’ve attended 25 of its festivals. By 1992, I’d become a regular. Mountainfilm was showing The Wilderness Idea about John Muir, Gifford Pinchot and their battle over the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Both were called “conservationists,” but Pinchot wanted to flood the valley to create a reservoir to serve San Francisco. John Muir wanted to preserve the national wilderness treasure. Ultimately, congress agreed with Pinchot. It was a beautiful film about passionate people and a big idea.

Inspired by the film and the festival, I knew that this was the kind of film I wanted to make. That fleeting thought was the impetus for our first documentary in 1995, Fire on the Mountain, the Story of the Men of the 10th Mountain Division.

I know I’m not alone. Many filmmakers have been inspired by Mountainfilm in Telluride. It’s where we’ve recognized the power of film. Mountainfilm’s tagline back then was “the power of film to change the world.” I bought it. Mountainfilm’s tagline now is “celebrating indomitable spirit,” and the organization has always done both. That’s one of the reasons I think it is so special. It celebrates individuals taking chances, following their passion and exploring the limits of their strength, power and influence all over the world.

Back then, Mountainfilm was movies and a “gathering of the tribe,” people who loved recreating in and celebrating mountains, mountain spirit and mountain culture. People hiked and climbed in the daytime and watched movies all night. In the 25 years I’ve attended Mountainfilm, both as an audience member and a filmmaker, the festival has grown. Now there’s not as much time to climb or hike because you’d miss an amazing speaker or art walk or ice cream social or coffee talk or symposium.

Now the tribe is bigger, and the topics are wider. Through Mountainfilm on Tour this celebration of indomitable spirit has spread all over the country and is now spilling out to countries beyond our borders.

Happy birthday, Mountainfilm! Every Memorial Day weekend, Telluride is where I want to be!


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