Saturday, November 23, 2013

Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - Bidder 70

Tim DeChristopher was a student at the University of Utah and a lover of the States parklands and wilderness when he heard about a controversial BML Oil and Gas lease auction. On December 19, 2008 he went down to the location to perhaps join with the protesters when he found himself inside the building and asked if he was here to be a bidder. He said yes, they handed him bidding paddle number 70 and despite knowing he did not have the funds to pay he won bids on 22,000 acres of land most of them in the most sensitive environmental areas. Once discovered he was charged federally for fraud carrying a potential 10-year jail sentence.

DeChristopher was at the beginning of his activism when he took this major step. After the event he became more involved then a leader in the Peaceful Uprising movement that preached non violent action often using arts, crafts and acting out scenes to get their message out. His action of disrupting the lease auction had inspired the other members of the group. The dispute in the DeChristopher case had one side stating that his actions were planned He made false statements during a bidding processes that demands punishment. On the other is the argument that this was a spur of the moment incident of civil disobedience. It was a choice of evils and taking this action was better than letting Southern Utah land near community treasures like Arches and Canonylands National Park go to large oils and gas companies.

Directors Beth and George Gage follow this case from the Incident right up to the trial and eventual sentencing in July 2011. The documentary follows Tim as he grows in stature from the initial event to a keynote speech at Power shift 2011 2 months after a guilty verdict at the February 2011 trial and with the sentencing date looming three months into the future. His action may have sparked a review of the  process as incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cancelled the leases on 77 parcels of land in February 2009.

One DeChristopher's initiative was his craiglist add seeking a peoples candidate for congress for Utah's second district. The current congressman Jim Matheson, a democrat in name only was essentially under the control of corporations and special interests. The campaign found Claudia Wright a retired school teach who split the vote at the state convention making it thought to the night of the primary election before loosing to Matheson. Another significant event during the pre-trial period was the April 20, 2010, BP Deep Horizon spill. First of all it provided renewed strength to activists as it showed in an unfathomable scale the level of environmental damage a mega oil company can do to the ocean, wildlife, ecosystems, beaches and communities. It also lead to another postponement of the trial as the appetite waned to try a case disrupting the oils and gas industry.

Two things kept DeChristopher going with the uncertainty of the trial hanging over him.  He was not able to leave the country had to check in with his parole office once a week and the unknown is often harder to deal with than a known fate.  One was his activism and role in Peaceful uprising.  The other his participation in and support from the First Unitarian Church of Utah.

Bidder 70 is a tough look at the potential consequences of activism and civil disobedience. The believers feel that they are contravening unjust laws but they all realize that their actions could lead to arrest, personal restrictions, fines and perhaps even jail time. The activist has to decide whether they are willing act and risk their personal freedom for their cause.  Tim DeChristopher was willing to do so exchanging 21 months of his freedom to save 22,000 acres of beloved unique american landscape. Bidder 70 is a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Bidder 70 | Beth and George Gage | USA | 2012 | 73 Minutes.

Tags: Civil Disobedience, BML, Deep Horizon Spill, Peaceful Uprising, Dept. of the Interior.

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