ROLLING PAPERS, documentary, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles
“Are you high right now?” Director Mitch Dickman asks that question of nearly everyone he interviews in his colorful documentary, which begins on Jan. 1, 2014 — the day shops across Colorado began selling pot legally.
When voters in Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, Greg Moore, editor of the Pulitzer Prizewinning Denver Post, recognized the cultural and historical significance of the moment and wanted to make sure the topic received focused, balanced attention. Accordingly, he appointed Ricardo Baca, the paper’s longtime entertainment editor and music critic, as its first marijuana editor and head of its new ganja-focused website, The Cannabist. Baca enlisted the help of seasoned staff (such as comparatively straight-laced investigative journalists Eric Gorski and John Ingold) and hired some new writers — critic and photographer Ry Prichard, connoisseur Jake Browne, and Brittany Driver, who tackles a column on parenting for pot smokers. It’s worth noting that the film’s title references more than one kind of paper. Not simply focusing on the topic of legalization, the film points out that a floundering longtime industry (newspapers) might well be salvaged by a burgeoning and so far thriving one (marijuana).
Colorado residents and journalists no doubt scoffed at the dedication of multiple employees to the coverage of marijuana, but Baca, at least as portrayed here, is a professional — both polite and serious, with good journalistic instincts and a sense of humor. Dickman follows him and his staff as they investigate pot culture and report on legal and regulatory issues. We learn how the Post helped break stories about inconsistent levels of THC in “edibles” and the stricter regulation that ensued. Baca visits Uruguay (where marijuana is legal on a federal level) in an attempt to determine what, if anything, the U.S. can learn about the trade. The film does seem to want to steer clear of pot’s darker side, only briefly touching on the death of a college student who jumped off a hotel balcony after eating marijuana-infused cookies.
No one would expect a film about the legalization of marijuana to be thoroughly somber, of course. Dickman employs a vaguely clichéd soundtrack of reggae, dance, hip-hop, used most noticeably in snickerinducing shots of various strains of buds set on furry rotating pedestals. This device is comical at first, but after several repetitions, it begins to feel silly and obnoxiously repetitive. When one such shot interrupts an interview of a mother using marijuana to treat her young son’s leukemia, it compromises the film’s attempts to be taken seriously.
Still, given that 58 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized and that the industry has made millions of dollars for the state of Colorado, this film is a pleasant-enough beginning to an important ongoing discussion.
Sweet smell of success: The Cannabist’s Jake Browne