Beth and George Gage acknowledge they are old enough to be Tim DeChristopher’s parents.
And sometimes the Gages, husband-and-wife filmmakers from Telluride, Colo., talk like proud parents about the 31-year-old former University of Utah student who has spent the past 21 months serving a federal sentence for making fraudulent bids for oil and gas leases at a Bureau of Land Management auction.
“He is so articulate, and he can frame so many important issues that relate to the average person,” George Gage says of DeChristopher.
The Gages will be helping DeChristopher celebrate his first days of freedom with an Earth Day screening of “Bidder 70,” their documentary about his legal travails and personal growth as a champion for the environment.
The movie screens Monday, April 22, at the Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City. Tickets are $15 at the theater box office.
The evening starts at 6:30 with musician Bryan Cahall, whose song “Arise” is heard on the movie’s soundtrack. At 7 p.m., the movie starts. After the movie, about 8:15, DeChristopher will make his first public appearance since his July 2011 sentencing hearing, taking questions from the audience and via Twitter at a post-screening discussion that will be simulcast at more than 50 locations nationwide.
The Earth Day event precedes the movie’s national release, which starts May 17 in New York and moves out to the rest of the country.
The Gages first encountered DeChristopher when they were on their way to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, Calif., in 2009. The couple were promoting a documentary they had made, “American Outrage,” and had stopped along the way to use a landline for an interview with NPR. In the same office, DeChristopher was also recording an interview and mentioned he was on his way to the same festival.
At the festival, the Gages met DeChristopher and pitched the idea of making a movie about his legal battle after his famous December 2008 act of civil disobedience. DeChristopher saw “American Outrage,” which chronicled two Western Shoshone sisters’ long fight against the BLM, and noted that the Gages were still friendly with the subjects after the film was made.
“By the end of the week, he said ‘yeah,’ ” Beth Gage said.
Following DeChristopher’s exploits meant a lot of miles for the Gages. Not only did they make repeated trips from Telluride to Salt Lake City to chronicle major events, but during nine trial postponements over more than two years, DeChristopher stayed active. He went to his boyhood home in West Virginia, witnessing the pollution-heavy mining practice of mountaintop removal. He attended an environmental rally in Washington, D.C., which culminated in a protester occupation of the Department of Interior (though, the Gages stress, DeChristopher himself did not occupy the building). He got involved in recruiting, via Craigslist, and campaigning for Democrat Claudia Wright in a challenge to incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson at the 2010 Utah Democratic Convention and in a primary runoff.
“Instead of sitting around and brooding, he went out and did things,” George Gage said. “He was constantly getting involved in issues.”
Following DeChristopher around, the Gages witnessed his maturation as a public speaker. Beth Gage recalled filming a 20-minute speech DeChristopher delivered at his church, Salt Lake City’s First Unitarian Church, that was a passionate and lucid statement of his principles.
“We could have made that the whole narration of our film,” she said.
DeChristopher’s isn’t the only voice in “Bidder 70.” The Gages interviewed his attorneys, Ron Yengich and Patrick Shea (the latter a former head of the BLM), and sat in on meetings of the activist group Peaceful Uprising, which organized street-theater protests before DeChristopher’s trial and famously blocked downtown traffic after his sentencing. The Gages also talked to two well-known environmental voices in Utah: author Terry Tempest Williams and actor/filmmaker/activist Robert Redford.
The Gages and Redford have a bit of a history. The Gages’ first documentary was “Fire on the Mountain,” a profile of the 10th Mountain Division, a World War II army unit trained for snow and made up of winter-sports enthusiasts who later became the backbone of the American ski industry. It played at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival and was a personal favorite of Redford’s.
After interviewing Redford, the Gages gave him a baseball cap with “Bidder 70” embroidered on it. Redford used the hat in his movie “The Company You Keep,” which opens April 26 in Salt Lake City. In the film, Redford (who directed) plays a former Weather Underground radical who’s been in hiding for 30 years — and when he must go on the lam, he uses the “Bidder 70” cap as camouflage from the cops.
“He wanted to do a tip of the hat to Tim,” said Beth Gage. “Those who know will get it, and other people might be curious.”
Sean P. Meanswrites The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trib Talk chat
Join The Salt Lake Tribune’s Jennifer Napier-Pearce at 11 a.m. Tuesday at sltrib.com for a live Trib Talk video chat with Tim DeChristopher.