Mountainfilm in Telluride festival director David Holbrooke recently met up with activist Tim DeChristopher who will return to the Telluride, Colorado, for the festival this year. Familiar to Mountainfilm audiences as a guest and the subject of the 2012 award-winning film Bidder 70, DeChristopher was sentenced in July 2011 to two years in prison for disrupting an auction of federal land. After serving terms in Herlong Federal Prison in California and Englewood in Colorado, he is now finishing the remainder of his sentence in a halfway house in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Tim DeChristopher and I sat down at a diner in downtown Salt Lake City. Our waitress came over and ignored me, but she looked at him several times and said, “You look really familiar.”
DeChristopher replied, “I get that a lot.”
She looked harder at him and asked, “Have you been in here a lot recently?”
DeChristopher responded, “No, it's been a couple years.”
Then she said, “What's your name?”
“Tim,” he replied.
She looked at him a little longer until a big smile lit up her face and said, “I know who you are. We’re friends on Facebook, but you probably don’t know that. Thank you for doing what you did.”
DeChristopher says he gets noticed a fair amount these days in Salt Lake City, and most people are supportive and friendly. They’re particularly friendly where he works at Ken Sander’s Rare Books, a literary institution that sells everything from original Books of Mormon to comic books by R. Crumb.
It’s a job that works well for him by day as a relatively free man because at night he must return to the halfway house that reminds him that he’s still a ward of the federal prison system. But he’s regaining some liberties and was recently granted permission to come to Mountainfilm this year to speak at our Moving Mountains Symposium on climate solutions. Of course he believes that one of the solutions is activism and remains resolute that all hands and feet, hearts and minds are needed to turn the tide on what he sees as the greatest threat to mankind in the history of the planet.
Something about DeChristopher that a lot of people don’t understand is that while he’s considered an environmentalist, and certainly cares about the natural world, he’s primarily a humanist who worries about the direction of our species. To that end, he feels he can better advance his beliefs by appealing to fellow believers —as in church-going believers — by attending divinity school. For some, including me, it’s a surprising move in what’s been an already interesting life. While he’s probably not the first person to go from prison to the pulpit, it isn’t the norm. But DeChristopher believes — as he wrote in an essay from prison, “Activism is an Act of Faith” — that social movements need a spiritual basis if they are going to persevere.
In the meantime, he bides his time in Salt Lake City, receiving warm smiles from waitresses. For me, it was just nice to see him out of prison clothes and getting ready for his next chapter. And we can all look forward to seeing him in Telluride in May.