Tim DeChristopher was a 27-year-old economics student at the University of Utah when he interfered with an auction by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). He bid on and won 12 parcels of beautiful land in southern Utah that he had no intention to pay for and, especially, to drill for oil on. On the contrary, his motivation for his inventive form of non-violent protest was to ensure that “oil stay in the ground so that we can have a chance for a livable future.” Beth and George Gage’s Bidder 70 is a highly inspirational account of DeChristopher’s life since then, including his beliefs on climate change, his activist efforts to bring about necessary political changes to save our planet’s future, and his reflections on his indictment on two federal charges and the current state of our democracy. There are a lot of environmental documentaries out there about inciting change, but Bidder 70 is one of the most affecting.
Without being didactic, the documentary demonstrates how an ordinary concerned citizen can take a stand when politicians neglect to make decisions for the good of the people and instead serve the interests of big business. And while DeChristopher was sentenced to jail, it’s clear that his efforts to draw attention to the government’s failure to do anything substantial about climate change and to follow its own laws in regard to the sale of this land weren’t in vain. We witness the people DeChristopher was involved with (many part of an organization called Peaceful Uprising) and whom he’s subsequently inspired—and without the slightest tinge of manipulation, Bidder 70 convinces us that these people really do care about the fate of humankind and that we’re entrapped in a legal system that is, environmentally speaking, still set on driving us off a cliff.
You’re feelings on all of this will, of course, still depend on your views on climate change. For Tim, his belief that there’s something drastically wrong came when he heard the following in a speech by Terry Root, a Phd and Nobel Prize winner: “There were things we could have done in the ’80s, things we could have done in the ’90s, but at this point, we’re too late.” As he recounts the story with her sitting next to him, what “shattered” him and then “moved him to tears” was when she put her hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, my generation failed yours.” And there’s something very moving about this simple yet powerful story, maybe because Tim and Terry don’t look like people under any illusions, but instead seem clearheaded and sensible. In a documentary that’s not about statistics, facts, and graphs, Bidder 70’s most proselytizing moments are ones like these, and, without even wanting to be, they comes across inconspicuously because they feel so honest.
Although we already know that DeChristopher will end up in jail, we feel some sense of hope every time the film informs us that his trail has been postponed because it doesn’t take long to realize that, without being Christ-like, he’s humbly sacrificing himself for everyone who cares about saving the planet. Hopefully this film will, in a sense, continue to postpone his silencing.