BIDDER 70 doc reduces super-activist Tim DeChristopher to a number, lonely
By Eric Verlo
NOT MY TRIBE - 4/25/2013 1:02PM MDT
BUMMER. I was thrilled a documentary would tell the world about Tim DeChristopher. You might think his achievement would be more widely know. It’s a testament of the power he’s up against, added to the meager support he has received, that even here I have to explain who he is and what he did. Tired of the futility of outdoor protests to prevent BLM land sales to the extraction industry, Tim DeChristopher attended an auction of particularly dubious legitimacy and successfully thwarted it by posing as a bidder and buying many of the lots. This happened at the close of Bush’s presidency, but Obama’s administration pursued a successful prosecution. DeChristopher has just been released after serving two years in federal prison. The documentary “Bidder 70” recounts the ordeal in a manner that provides neither encouragement nor inspiration, and leaves me to question how DeChristopher might have been better represented in court, publicized in actions, and celebrated in film. To say Bidder 70 reduces Tim DeChristopher to a number distorts the idiom. No mere number, DeChristopher is the important but solitary number one, among a casualty count always rising. In the sea of ineffectual activism that prompted his improvisational escalation, DeChristopher emerges more singular than when he started, but that’s to judge based on a flawed documentary. Hardly an surprising result.
It’s certainly armchair quarterbacking to suggest Tim DeChristopher’s legal team failed him miserably, likewise his publicity crew, but I can unequivocally conclude that DeChristopher would have served the environmental movement much more successfully had he been free to apply his imagination and energies, literally. Jail time helped Mandela, MLK and Thoreau, but that’s because you heard about it. The makers of “Bidder 70” can’t be faulted for their subject’s obscurity, but they are applying themselves to sealing his fate with coffin nails.
“Bidder 70” has major shortcomings: you are left with an informed impression that one, there is nothing to be done, two, you don’t want to do it in prison, and three, our collective impotence is inescapable. What’s the point then of attending the movie?
Of all the questions left for a post-screening Q&A, probably one should not be whether the subject is other than he appears. Explain this, how does a protagonist gain inspiration from being told there’s nothing to be done, by a Nobel Prize winner, whom he believes and holds as his mentor? Everyone loves a good challenge, but DeChristopher comes off as a poor listener. Nothing? I’ll see your nothing and raise you nothing. Futile? Count me in! Everyone loves an underdog, but he gathers no recruits.
Never mind his in-denial heroics, the audience takeaway is that his cause is lost. This is swiftly reinforced with the story of Tim DeChristopher’s road less traveled to prison. Offered encouragement by other activists who’ve served time, who we’ve also not heard of, it’s painted to be a fate of unimaginable awfulness and given an ominous soundtrack.
Who could not to admire Tim DeChristopher and respect his dedication and courage? The filmmakers painted in super-heroic light, notwithstanding his irrational adjustments, and so their thematic choice look awfully suspect. Are we likely to learn that they’re new to activism and have no idea what does or doesn’t motivate?
Filmed between 2009 and 2011 and released last year, “Bidder 70” makes no mention of “fracking.” The environmental movement has been literally bursting with opposition to hydraulic fracturing and these filmmakers were at the forefront of the national rallies. This omission is juxtaposed with a clip of 350’s Bill McKibbon praising the consumption of natural gas over coal.