Chris J. Russo’s documentary shows how the rapidly changing California marijuana industry has left female entrepreneurs behind.
As talk of legalization spread in California’s Humboldt and Mendocino counties in 2016, local marijuana growers remained cautiously optimistic. After decades of helicopter overflights, DEA raids and life living in the shadows, farmers have traded their fears of prosecution for worrying about what a stream of cash could do to their hard-earned industry. Filmed over the course of four years,”Lady Bud“A glimpse into some of California’s most respected weed growers, following an eclectic group of pioneers and family growers during this turning point in the marijuana industry. While some of the characters are as colorful as one would imagine, most of them are just hardworking entrepreneurs trying to stay afloat.” Feminist film tells their stories through a dry, sympathetic, disappointing lens.
Director Chris J. Russo became interested in the topic after reading a statistic that women hold 36 percent of leadership positions in the cannabis industry, the highest percentage of any other emerging market in the United States with a focus on six key themes, as well as some supporting characters, struggling” Lady Buds” to find a human narrative, even among a plethora of eccentrics. Dropping two stories would allow more time for personal flourishing, and would have gone a long way in transforming “Lady Buds” from a traditional but informative documentary into an entertaining character study framed around a hot button issue.
Featured as the most memorable characters are The Bud Sisters – impulsive best friends Pearl and Dr. Joyce – who inspire awe and respect from local farmers in Humboldt County. With swirling styles of bright pink and purple hair, Pearl sends sparks through the film with every husky belly laugh, with Dr. Joyce as a spirited woman. Pearl presents the most amusing scene in the film, when she serves as a judge for the Golden Tarp Awards, inhaling and seriously testing each strain of a trained Parisian sommelier. It was gratifying to see the look on her face when the event surprised her with the Ganjier Award, her short acceptance speech that begins with: “I’m really high.” Perhaps Pearl and Dr. Joyce’s friendship deserves their own movie, though it would be a very different one.
As a second-generation cannabis grower with long roots in Mendocino County, Chiah Rodriques is another iconic character in the film. She and her husband run the family farm together, raising two teenage boys with a hard work schedule. Rodriguez provides a window into Mendocino’s Wild West past, remembering that she was asked not to discuss what her father did for a living and the terrifying sounds of helicopters flying overhead. With big farming encroaching on the cannabis industry, it’s sad to see the family struggle to collect payments from distributors while grappling with the increasingly burdensome new regulations.
The focus shifts away from farmers to include the equally inspiring Felicia Carvajal, an outlandish Latino activist who begins illegally delivering herbs to her friends dying of AIDS in San Francisco. It is Carbajal who explains how it was LGBTQ activists who started the fight for medical marijuana through California’s Prop 215, or Compassionate Use Act of 1996. As a former imprisoned activist running for office, Carbajal directs the film by providing a much needed and often needed film What is being overlooked.
More than just a feminist film, Lady Bud is a portrait of how easily small farmers carelessly overrun big farming in the years after rationing. When Mayor of Humboldt County clearly explains how “only the strong will survive,” he is the most sympathetic expression ever. Between waves of wildfires, bureaucratic barriers, and undervaluing a product, most of the companies mentioned in “Lady Buds” don’t survive. It’s a wrenching look at the dangers of ban, and who wins when all is said and done.
Grade: C +
“Lady Buds” is available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.