SALT LAKE CITY — Tim DeChristopher, Utah's homegrown environmental activist, is scheduled on Sunday to walk out the doors of a Salt Lake City halfway house and into freedom.
His departure marks a successful conclusion to the nearly two-year sentence he served for monkey-wrenching a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas auction in December of 2008.
His later conviction on two felonies in the summer of 2011 — at least for a time — capped a defiant and publicly evocative run of climate change activism that made him the darling of civil disobedience and stoked a faithful following.
Now, after nearly the five years when he held up the placard No. 70 out of protest and decided to bid on 14 land parcels of oil and gas leases for $1.8 million, DeChristopher's story is being told.
The documentary "Bidder 70" debuts in Salt Lake City Monday night, and afterward, DeChristopher will respond to an hour-long question and answer session live-streamed in 50 locations across the country.
Hosted by the group DeChristopher co-founded, Peaceful Uprising, and the Salt Lake Film Society, the screening is being held at the Tower Theater, 876 E. 900 South, with doors set to open at 6:30 p.m. A concert will be given by Bryan Cahill, whose music is featured in the film, with the screening to begin at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online for $15.
The documentary duo, George and Beth Gage of Gage & Gage Productions, have been immersed in DeChristopher's story since he first acted at the BLM auction on a snowy day in downtown Salt Lake City.
Both said they were captivated by his convictions and his unorthodox approach to protest.
"What Tim did was ingenious and it was sort of startling," Beth Gage said. "He was able to stop an oil and gas auction that environmental groups had been protesting but it was still going to go on anyway." He will be free on Sunday, but remain on three years probation, part of his muddy legacy.
Beth Gage, the writing half of the duo, and George Gage, the photography director, both conceded they believed their foray into DeChristopher's story would be a lot simpler, and a lot shorter.
"What began as following him around for a time turned into following him around for 4½ years," Beth Gage said. "We never dreamed that not only would we be there when he went to prison but there when he got out of prison."
The Gages said when they heard DeChristopher speak about his passion for climate change justice, they were hooked by the artistry of his words and his emotions.
"He is creative, thoughtful and articulate," she said. "He has this ability to inspire a crowd."
Rachel Carter, a community organizer with Peaceful Uprising, said she does not know how active DeChristopher plans to be in the environmental movement upon his release — he still will be on supervisory release.
"He's not going to be organizing activities, but he is still a supporter."
At summer's end, DeChristopher plans to be enrolled at Harvard Divinity School, where Carter said he has been accepted on full scholarship to pursue being a Unitarian minister.12 comments on this story
Supporters, though, have noted the welcome coincidence of DeChristopher being able to speak publicly for the first time on Earth Day, an event and concept first pioneered in the protest days of 1969 and then adopted as global celebration in 2009 to urge environmental protections.
George Gage said he hopes that sort of timing helps to put people at the screening because while he could have debuted the award-winning film in New York City or Los Angeles, it seemed only fitting for it to show in Salt Lake City first.
"This is where Tim is from," he said. "This is where it started."