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Bidder 70: Film Review

Bidder 70 Poster Art - P 2013

The Bottom Line

This thoughtful doc vividly illustrates the personal consequences of daring to take on the government. 

Directors

Beth Gage, George Gage

Beth and George Gage's documentary depicts the legal battle precipitated by a young protestor's act of civil disobedience.

It’s fortunate for environmental activist Tim DeChristopher that he was recently released from federal prison after serving a nearly two-year sentence. Now, at least, he can comfortably watch Bidder 70, George Gage and Beth Gage’s documentary about how he got there.

In 2008, DeChristopher, then a 27-year-old economics student at the University of Utah, attended a Bureau of Land Management auction of some 100,000 acres of pristine Utah wilderness, much of which would inevitably be sold to oil and gas companies. Despite having no money to pay for them, he successfully bid on and won several parcels totaling around 22,000 acres. Needless to say, when his subterfuge was discovered he was indicted by the federal government on fraud charges that carried a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.

That act of non-violent civil disobedience, and the lengthy legal battle it provoked, is the subject of the film, which doesn’t exactly shy away from glorifying its central figure. From the preacher comparing him to Thoreau to the archival footage of such figures as Martin Luther King and Gandhi, it firmly attempts to make a case that DeChrisopher is following a long and hallowed tradition.

While viewers’ reactions will inevitably depend on their political leanings, the film does provide a vivid illustration of citizen activism and its considerable personal risks. A gallery of figures, including Nobel prize-winning scientist Terry Root, author and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams and actor/filmmaker Robert Redford, are on hand to sing DeChristopher’s praises.  

“It’s profoundly wrong,” says Redford about the possibility of the young man’s being sentenced to prison.

DeChristopher, who went on to co-found the organization Peaceful Uprising, was eventually sentenced to two years, even as the auction was ultimately invalidated by the incoming Obama administration.

Whatever one thinks about his actions, it’s hard not to be amazed by the sheer waste of the effort and expense incurred by the lengthy legal battle, which is vividly conveyed by the clearly impassioned filmmakers. By the time you’ve finished watching Bidder 70, you’ll be left both angered and hopeful.

Opens May 17 (First Run Features)

Directors/producers: Beth Gage, George Gage

Screenwriter: Beth Gage

Director of photography: George Gage

Editor: Ryan Suffern

Composer: Paul Pilot

Not rated, 73 min.