'Bidder 70' unveiled

MANCHESTER - Until Hurricane Sandy struck last week, the discussion around climate change seemed to be stuck on mute.

But the epic storm has revived speculation about whether ocean levels are rising, and if the weather in general is becoming more unpredictable.

Many environmentalists draw a connection between that and elevated levels of carbon emissions, derived from energy sources based on fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

Similarly, acts of civil disobedience - intentionally disrupting some otherwise legal and "ordinary" action, seem to make headlines less frequently, the occasional Occupy Wall street-inspired protest notwithstanding.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, however, an award-winning documentary film will be shown in Manchester - and for the first time in Vermont - that links both climate change concerns and civil disobedience.

"Bidder70" is the story of how one young environmental activist, Tim deChristopher, disrupted an auction of federal lands in Utah designed to award drilling leases for oil and gas exploration. In 2008, deChristopher, then 27, successfully "outbid" other energy industry companies for 14 parcels of land totaling 22,000 acres of pristine wilderness adjacent to the Canyonlands National Park, apparently ready to plunk down $1.8 million for the rights to the properties.

There was one catch, however - deChristopher didn't have $1.8 million to offer the federal Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Department of the Interior, and certainly had no intention of drilling. He was there, rather, to disrupt the proceeding, which, a few months later, was declared illegal by the newly installed Obama administration.

Drilling may have been forestalled on the 22,000 acres deChristopher "bought" the rights to, but his story didn't end there. He was charged with violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and for making false statements. His trial was delayed nine times, but in early March 2011, he was found guilty and sentenced to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. He is still serving that sentence, although he has been moved from prison and is currently at a halfway house in Salt Lake City. He is scheduled for release in April 2013. Word of his actions caught the attention of two documentary filmmakers, George and Beth Gage, who followed deChristopher throughout much of the intervening two and a half years between the auction and the trial, giving voice to his protest and concerns about environmental degradation and climate change, they said in a telephone interview.

"We were interested in the story and it seemed a very ingenious act to stop the auction and put it on hold," said Beth Gage.

Which is exactly what did happen following a court order in January 2009, pending a further review of environmental laws on air quality and historic preservation.

In their 72-minute long film, the Gages trace the track of deChristopher's act of civil disobedience at the auction, using footage taken at the event, through its legal aftermath. Unable to bring cameras into the courtrooms, they recorded witnesses who read aloud from their testimony, George Gage said.

"Then we basically tell a really personal story of Tim - about what his views are what a man of conviction he is," he said. "We take him back to West Virginia where he is from originally - he was upset about mountaintop removal. We were with him for three and a half years."

Mountaintop removal, as the term suggests, is when the tops of hills and mountains are "removed" to access coal deposits within. Several well-known environmental activists appear in the film, including the movie actor Robert Redford and environmental activist Bill McKibben, from Middlebury and a founder of 350.org, a climate change activist group which advocates for reducing carbon emissions through greater use of renewable energy sources.

It was through 350.org that Transition Town Manchester, a local environmental activist group, heard about the film and decided to try to bring it here, said Bill Laberge, a Dorset cabinetmaker and a member of the group.

"We're trying to get our community off its dependency on fossil fuels and Tim deChristopher is one example of how the fossil fuel companies are kind of controlling our environment and making the rules for the game," he said." We thought this was an important story for people to see."

Both George and Beth Gage will be attending the presentation of "Bidder70" and will take part in a discussion about it and what actions can be taken to support deChristopher as he serves out his jail sentence, according to a press statement.

The film has already garnered several awards from several film festivals where it has already been shown, including a prestigious festival held in Traverse City, Mich., organized by filmmaker Michael Moore, where it recently was chosen as "Best American Film," George Gage said.

The film will be shown at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Village Pictures Show in Manchester. Tickets are $9. For more information, contact info@ TransitionTownManchester.org, or call 802-549-4430.


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