I first met Beth and George Gage, the husband and wife team of Gage and Gage Productions, in the fall of 2010. They came to my alma mater — Pitzer College in Claremont, California — to screen the trailer of their most recent documentary film, Bidder 70.

Like any of the films the Gage’s produce, the subject of its story is based on environmental and social justice. At the time, Beth and George were still in the midst of chronicling the story of Tim DeChristopher, a West Virginian climate activist and co-founder of the environmental group Peaceful Uprising, who’d spontaneously decided to disrupt a federal Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction in December of 2008. Bidding $1.7 million, DeChristopher won 22,000 acres of public land in southern Utah without the intention to pay or drill.

By the time I was meeting Beth and George, they had been following DeChristopher for two years as he awaited trial from an indictment for violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and making false statements.

Three months after their visit, I received an email from George:

Hi Janet,

Beth and I met you at Pitzer after the screening of the trailer for “Bidder 70” (The Tim DeChristopher Story). You expressed an interest in volunteering, if there was a need. Well, now there is a need for a PA in Salt Lake the weekend of the trial. If you were available, is there any way you can get to Salt Lake the weekend of the 26th of February? We can provide housing and a meal allowance. Thank you for your interest in this important film.

Unable to assist the Gage’s at the time, I was thrilled to see 18 months later that Bidder 70 made its New York debut at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in late June of this year. This was the Gage’s second film to be included in the HRW Film Festival, their first being American Outrage — a short documentary about two Shoshone grandmothers’ 40-year struggle for land rights — in 2008. Because there were only 16 films in this year’s festival, as George explained to me, “being included means you’re amongst a select group, and we’re really honored.” Assessed for both artistic merit and “human rights content,” the festival’s program committee reviewed more than 500 submissions for consideration. Once a film is nominated for acceptance into the program, another set of HRW staff view the candidates in order to confirm each work’s accuracy in portraying human rights concerns. Misrepresentation or any other form of bias thereof disqualifies entries. Michael Moore, for example, would never appear on the festival’s bill.

Beth happened upon DeChristopher’s story in her local Telluride, Colorado paper. In fact, this is how the Gage’s typically find the subjects for their films, with Beth credited as the film’s writer. “In just one afternoon, this guy took thousands of acres of land off the auction block; immediately we were interested in Tim,” she said. The thesis, as it were, of the Gage’s film is made clear in its opening with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly and with a willingness to accept the penalty,” foreshadowing the foregone conclusion of DeChristopher’s sentencing, which took place this time last year. Early on, it would seem that a film about climate activism in the face of corporate business quickly slips into a familiarly progressive brand of political documentary. Found footage of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, in addition to interviews with outspoken conservationists, such as actor Robert Redford and author Terry Tempest Williams, both Utah natives, seem all too predictable among the rest of the film’s roster of left-leaning talking heads. Obama takes office, and Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, cancels the 77 land leases issued under the Bush administration. At this point, U2 begins to play, as the hopeful voice of Bono gradually builds up into a crescendo of triumph. We’re no more than 10 minutes into the film. A false pretense, if there ever was one. Not only does DeChristopher openly criticize Obama’s legislative impotence, exclaiming in frustration, “Obama is the strongest president we’ve ever had, but we need someone stronger,” but the film also points out the negligence of the Obama administration in even so much as acknowledging, not to mention, defending, the merits of DeChristopher’s actions. George later confessed to me, after the film, “I’m really disappointed in Obama. I mean, I voted for him and I’ll vote for him again, but he hasn’t done…” his voice trailed off, while he shook his head.

What follows in the next 63-minutes of the film is an honest portrayal of a political awakening. While tracing DeChristopher’s ascent within environmental activism circles, in parallel to a personal emotional descent in the face of an impending prison sentence, the Gage’s offer an authentic view of political dissent. In his defense, DeChrisopher’s “ethical and necessary” impromptu actions are the catalyst of a fearless campaign to combat global warming. Viewers are afforded a rare partisan neutral presentation of a highly politicized topic. Further defying convention is how Bidder 70 quickly removes itself from the canon of environmental documentary — consisting of An Inconvenient Truth, of course, Who Killed the Electric Car?, and the like — by focusing on how DeChristopher puts civil disobedience into action. Instead of investigating how unlawful public land auctions happen in the first place, or why corporate greed is allowed to continue profiting from environmental degradation, the Gage’s documentary reveals an embodiment of political resistance in the unassuming form of DeChristopher. Ultimately, the highs and lows of DeChristopher’s protest efforts, judicial processing, and personal growth are a lesson that, “one person’s sacrifice is not enough,” according to Beth.

With an eventual total of nine trial date postponements, Beth and George admit that production lasted longer than expected, but with each delay came another opportunity to see DeChristopher create various means to rejecting the status quo. His three and a half year transformation from frustrated citizen to a model of civil disobedience unfolds through a series of ideas, which George tells me, DeChristopher improvised himself.  DeChristopher becomes a co-founder of Peaceful Uprising, “a nonprofit collective committed to action to combat the climate crisis and build a just, healthy world,” in the words of their Web site. But while the group itself is an integral part of DeChristopher’s support base, it proves dissatisfying and counterproductive to the film’s overall effectiveness, especially in a scene during which some of its members stage a fictional trial, effectively social justice v. corporate America, to demonstrate how the art, music, and performance characterizing this organization are put into practice in the name of solidarity and community outreach. Not only vapid and tangential to the film’s more substantive chapters, but this scene also seems to affirm Conservative Republican criticism of Liberal Democrats as little more than misguided hippies stuck in the pipe-dreams of the ’60s. Later, DeChristopher retreats to his Appalachian hometown in West Virginia to see the devastation of mountain top removal. It is at this point in the film that we receive DeChristopher’s biographical background from his mother Christine, who reveals the origins of his environmental conscience. She describes how whenever DeChristopher was upset, she’d advise him to “head for the woods.” DeChristopher is a martyr to his principles, with the bitter irony of nature being both the cause and relief of his distress within the film.

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