There’s an understandable allure to making a documentary about marijuana—it’s such a potentially fun topic with strong political undercurrents and a built-in fan base. No wonder there’s a whole genre of such films, with titles like The Culture High, Super High Me, A NORML Life and Grass: The History of Marijuana (the latter, directed by Ron Mann, sounds like one of the better ones of the bunch).
Most famously, there was Reefer Madness, the 1930s cautionary tale that was recut into a B-movie that became a satirical hit in the 70s and 80s. Last weekend, a new addition arrived, called Rolling Papers, about the legalization of marijuana in 2014 in Colorado and The Denver Post’s decision to anoint a marijuana editor to cover the beat. Director Mitch Dickman pairs the two kinds of paper—smoking papers and newspapers—as he follows his lead character, the editor Ricardo Baca during his year of pot coverage.
The film provides a good look at what happens in Colorado and Baca is a thoroughly likable dude, but the film didn’t exactly blow me away. It’s a pretty tough task: balancing the political gravitas with the fun. And I must admit, I was probably most engaged by the stoner dude representations of different kinds of herb, presented like beauty pageant contestants replete with their own musical scores.
I met Dickman at Hot Docs last year, where the film screened. He and I more recently had a brief email chat about Rolling Papers, which is now in theaters (but you better go soon) or on VOD. For more information how you can see the film, go here.
Tom Roston: Do you think audiences will be having fun, thinking profoundly, or getting politicized when they watch Rolling Papers? What were you going for?
Mitch Dickman: I think we really are trying to walk that line of balancing having fun with thinking profoundly. Definitely a challenge, but it is reflective of the way Colorado citizens have had to deal with it and it also reflects the way The Denver Post covered it (culture/reviews right along side policy/investigative reporting).
Roston: What was it like having Ricardo as your lead subject?
Dickman: Ricardo as a person is incredible and one of the nicest humans I have met. Great, but can be challenging for that to be your character as we often yearn for more dramatic/conflict driven people. But, it was refreshing to have such a mellow person to work with and reflect that on camera.
I asked Dickman if theaters were making any preparations for folks smoking pot during screenings or if he’d be encouraging that sort of behavior, and he was totally straight about it. “I don’t think so,” he wrote. “It’s not encouraged as it’s illegal based on the Colorado Clean Air Indoor Act.”