Lady Buds


A bitter harvest.

(2021) Documentary (Pacoline) Felicia Carbajal, Joyce Centofanti, Cheryl Mumzer Goldman, Pearl Moon, Chiah Rodrigues, Sue Taylor, Karyn Wagner, Dani Burkhart, Eileen Russell, Monique Ramirez, Liz Poindexter, Lori Ajax. Directed by Chris J. Russo

 

We have a tendency to use marijuana as something of a punchline, socially speaking. It brings visions of stoners getting an urgent case of the munchies at 2am after a day smoking weed and navel-gazing, laughing at jokes that nobody but other stoners understand, and high-tailing it (pun intended) to Taco Bell for all the gorditas they can afford.

With California legalizing cannabis for recreational use, there is a seismic shift taking place among the growers of the plant. Heretofore small growers essentially ruled the roost (many in Humboldt County, a beautiful redwood-dotted mountainous region), Proposition 84 – which was promised to keep big agribusiness out for at least a year after the prop went into effect – presented the largely outlaw culture of Humboldt and Mendocino counties a confusing maze of bureaucracy and paperwork that soon, it becomes clear, is meant to pave the way for Big Agra to take over.

While the perception that cannabis culture is largely male-dominated, there are a surprisingly large percentage of women who have been involved in the industry and this documentary from first-time feature filmmaker Russo (not related to the Russo Brothers of the MCU so far as I know). Some have been involved with the business for decades, like farmer Chiah Rodrigues, a second generation farmer whose parents were both part of the counterculture; she runs a farm with her husband who prefers to spend time cross-pollinating and cross-breeding different strains of marijuana to produce a superior bud. Then there are the Bud Sisters, long-time friends Pearl Moon and Joyce Centofanti, who joyfully partake of their own product and have become civic leaders in Humboldt for their passion for the business. There are also relative newcomers to the table, like Karyn Wagner, a former New York restauranteur who switched coasts to be with her pot-grower husband and after his untimely death, sought to create branding for her product, calling on her experience in the dining industry. A newcomer to the industry is Sue Taylor, a retired Catholic school principal who hopes to open a dispensary in Berkeley that caters to seniors and would also serve as an education center into the benefits of cannabis, but has to overcome the hurtles of dealing with a bureaucracy that is anything but helpful. Finally there is the energetic Felicia Carbajal, a Latin and queer activist looking to raise the profile of people of color within the industry where they are grossly underrepresented (as they are in most businesses that provide opportunities for success).

As with most documentaries that follow multiple subjects, your enjoyment of the film will largely depend on how you relate to the individuals depicted in it. For me, I found the Bud Sisters to be absolutely delightful. They would definitely be a hoot to hang out with, although it would be dangerous to me as I am, regrettably, allergic to cannabis. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be entertained, and so will you be, listening to their irreverent attitudes. You also feel for the small farmer like Rodrigues, who is seeing a lifetime of work going up in proverbial smoke as she sees the writing on the wall; the legalization brought a dramatic drop in price, as well as the dangers posed by the recent wildfires in California. Some of the old-timers speak of their way of life disappearing, but that was inevitable, just as the invasion of large-money interests into the industry is inevitable. It is extremely likely that the small grower won’t survive when you have a deep-pocketed business able to operate at a loss for years while driving the competition out of business. That has how capitalism has worked for centuries.

This is largely an anecdotal documentary; it doesn’t delve deeply into facts and figures, mostly following along its subjects and taking what they have to say as gospel. Also, while the movie is marketed largely as a celebration of women in the emerging industry, more attention seems to being paid to the fact that they are LGBTQ in some cases or people of color in others. We don’t really get a sense of what being a woman brings to the table of the cannabis industry that is different than what a man brings. You get a sense that all of the people here portrayed are champions of the medicinal values of marijuana and are genuinely interested in helping people even more than they are making a profit, but I’m sure there are some women in the industry who are entirely profit-oriented and it would have been nice to hear from one of those, particularly a young person as most of the subjects in the documentary are middle aged or older.

At the end of the day, you do get some insight into the disquieting prospects the small farmers face in the teeth of big business and big government bureaucracy (California is notorious for making its citizens jump through all kinds of bureaucratic hoops in order to get anything done) and in that sense, is a fairly universal message for anyone who is thinking of operating a small artisanal farm. The insights on that end are worth looking into, but otherwise I would have been a little happier had the documentary dropped perhaps one or two of the subjects and focused more on the Bud Sisters, Rodrigues and Taylor who I thought were the most interesting subjects.

The movie recently made its world premiere at the Hot Docs festival in Canada, and Canadian readers can stream the film from their website which can be found here. Keep an eye out for it as it should be making the rounds of film festivals throughout the summer and fall.

REASONS TO SEE: The Bud Sisters are absolutely and irrepressibly charming.
REASONS TO AVOID: Might be a little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of drug use (as you might imagine) as well as some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Proposition 64, a ballot initiative legalizing recreational use for marijuana, passed on November 8, 2016.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/3/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Evergreen: The Road to Legalization
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest

The Pollinators


Poetry in motion.

 (2019) Documentary (1091Alan Ard, Maryann Frazier, Jonathan Lundgren, Zac Browning, Bret Adee, James Frazier, Davey Hackenberg, Lucas Criswell, Sam Ramsey, Susan Kegley, Jeff Anderson, Leigh Kathryn Bonner. Directed by Peter Nelson

 

For most of us, bees are annoying and a swarm of them is to be feared; they can make picnics and outdoor activities a non-starter. However, they are absolutely vital to agriculture. They pollinate flowering crops that allow those flowers to become fruit, nuts and vegetables.

It is no secret that the bee population is declining at an alarming rate. This should concern everyone, because as one beekeeper wryly puts it, “We all, you know, eat.” I had always thought that farmers relied on local beekeepers but given the extent of agriculture in the 21st century that’s no longer possible. Beekeepers truck tens of thousands of bees via semi-tractor trailer across the country on interstates to farms whose orchards are just beginning to flower and require the pollination. Those windows of opportunity for the farmers are often brief and they can only give the beekeepers a few days’ notice that their bees are needed. This results in a logistical task equal to those of Hercules.

But bees have other challenges that they face. These same orchard growers use pesticides to help thin their flowers so that the resultant fruit are the largest possible; they also must use pesticides and fungicides to protect their crops. Most of these are harmful to bees, particularly the neonicotinoids which are prevalent currently.

In fact, much of modern agriculture is dictated by the big chemical companies. Big agriculture has deemed that monofarming – sticking with a single crop (usually corn, rice or soy) is the most efficient way to farm, and on the surface it might seem so. Those three crops I named are also not reliant on pollination, so that cuts the cost of importing bees. However, those crops use an enormous amount of space – the corn crop alone takes up 5% of the total land in the United States – and give nothing back. In fact, they leech the nutrients from the soil, producing food that is less and less nutritious and tasty, forcing home cooks and professional chefs alike to have to use more salt and sugar to give them a taste. They also rob bees of their own food source, causing mass starvation of bees in the wild. In addition, bees are attacked by a species of mite that came over from Asia that renders the bees more susceptible to the pesticides and starvation. It’s no wonder that entire colonies of bees have died off.

With the EPA and FDA unwilling to help – one beekeeper refers to the EPA derisively as the Chemical Protection Agency – a revolution in agriculture is quietly underway. Farmers and beekeepers are engaging in something called regenerative farming – going back to crop rotation, something that was done on farms globally until recently – and planting things like clover, rye and local grasses that are bee-friendly, giving the bees a source of nourishment beyond the crops they are pollinating.

Nelson, a veteran nature documentary cinematography, takes the director’s chair for the first time and does a bang-up job, delivering a massively informative documentary that calls attention to the problems in a sober and fact-based manner, offering solutions and allowing the beekeepers whose love for their charges goes beyond being their means of making a living to do the finger-pointing when needed and at the right targets – Big Agra, Big Chemicals and government agencies that are no longer even making a pretense of protecting the citizenry of this country but instead serve the interests of the wealthy. That farmers can and are taking matters into their own hands is both comforting and energizing.

Too often we see documentaries that call attention to a major problem and leave the viewer feeling helpless and hopeless, but that isn’t the case here. We all have a vested interest in the health of bees as their efforts help nourish all of us, and I do mean all. Nelson has a cinematographers eyes and utilizes plenty of slow-motion bees in flight images, aerial shots of bucolic farms, and close-ups of soil both lifeless and teeming with life. This is an excellent film that reminds us that we are all part of a system that works in harmony; disrupting even something as seemingly insignificant as the honey bees can have catastrophic consequences for us humans.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderful bee photography. Gives insight to a very real problem and to those who love bees and are fighting to save them.
REASONS TO AVOID: The focus on agriculture may not resonate with those not involved directly with it other than as consumers.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One in every three bites of food that you take has benefitted from the pollinizing by honey bees or a similar species.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Kanopy, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/19//20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: More Than Honey
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Berlin, I Love You