Film Review: Bidder 70

The story of a brave political activist makes for a documentary more inspiring than informative.

Bidder 70 concerns the efforts of a college student to block the attempts by the Bush administration to auction gas and oil leases to big corporations in Utah. The “David and Goliath” nature of Tim DeChristopher’s crusade is neatly illustrated by filmmakers Beth and George Gage. Audiences looking for a young hero (and a decent movie about one) should appreciate this effort.

In short, Bidder 70 reviews DeChristopher’s evolution from University of Utah economics major—with an interest in conservation—to bidder #70 at the 2008 Bureau of Land Management auction, where he outbid (and outplayed) the industry big shots at their own game of securing previously protected territory. But for all his momentary success, DeChristopher was subsequently hounded by the government, charged with federal felonies (after the auction had been invalidated anyway) and, finally, following a 2011 trial held by a biased judge, fined and imprisoned. Today, DeChristopher is on probation.

There isn’t anything greatly innovative about Bidder 70, but Beth and George Gage (who both or individually produced, directed, wrote or shot the film) use traditional techniques in a smart way. With swift editing by Ryan Suffern, DeChristopher’s journey of civil disobedience jumps back and forth between the personal and the political, not getting too involved in the details of either. So while we do not learn about DeChristopher in terms that might endear him to us more, nor do we learn about the worst horrors of the gas and oil industry. Fortunately, DeChristopher is personable enough and most viewers interested in seeing Bidder 70 would already know about the gross misconduct of the major energy companies.

The most revealing, and troubling, piece of information we learn is that the Bush agenda did not immediately change once the Obama administration came into power. The Secretary of the Interior in 2009, Ken Salazar, went after DeChristopher with the same legal zeal as had been the case earlier, during Bush’s reign. The good news is that Salazar has since left his position, the agency seems to be in better hands, and the land that had been auctioned off is back to being federally preserved. But the point of the film might be that no matter who is in charge, one should question authority. DeChristopher does it in a momentous way, but why should he be alone? We all could make a bigger difference if we had strength in numbers. Like DeChristopher, Bidder 70 is modest but revitalizing.