'Rolling Papers': Film Review

Courtesy of SXSW
Not high-grade.
2/19/2016

Mitch Dickman's documentary chronicles the efforts of the Denver Post's first-ever "marijuana editor" as he covers the new beat after the state legalizes the drug.

The city of Denver, Colorado, used to have two major newspapers. One, the Rocky Mountain News, published since 1859, shuttered in 2009. The other, The Denver Post, is thriving. In response to Colorado's legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, the paper hired a "marijuana editor," Ricardo Baca, and started a special website, "The Cannabist," featuring news and even reviews relating to the subject. Who says that professional journalism is dying?  

Mitch Dickman's punningly titled documentary shadows the editor and his intrepid reporters during their first year on the job. Commenting on Baca's hiring, one of the paper's top editors explains, "He covered the music scene for many years, so I knew he was familiar with marijuana."

(Personal note: I also cover the music scene, and since I live in New York you'll have to draw your own conclusions).

Considering its subject matter, it's hard not to be amused by the largely straightforward tone the film takes toward its central figures, including one female pot critic who also writes a parenting column (Baca quickly takes her off the first beat) and a novice reporter assigned to a story about a black-market pot dealer who, after being asked a sensitive question, firmly requests that the camera be turned off.

"I should Google investigative reporting," the writer comments on his way to the interview. All the President's Men, this ain't.

Still, there are serious issues raised, from the use of medical marijuana to treat sick children to an investigation of a company whose products fail to contain the requisite amount of THC (the chemical in marijuana that gets you high). Less interestingly, the film follows Baca on a trip to Uruguay where he explores the issues raised by the country becoming the first to legalize the drug.

The filmmaker isn't entirely immune to lightheartedness, such as when the pot critics discuss such strains as "Death Panda" and "Ghost Train." After they're named, the products are glamorously showcased on a revolving silk pillow, like marijuana porn.

But despite its intriguing subject, the film, which required the services of no less than three editors (what, were they having trouble concentrating?), doesn't delve deeply enough to be fully satisfying. Much like the drug it spotlights (to reference another journalism-themed movie), it will leave you hungry afterwards.   

Production: Denver Documentary Collective, Listen Productions

Distributor: Alchemy

Director: Mitch Dickman

Producers: Mitch Dickman, Britta Erickson, Alison Greenberg Millice, Daniel Junge, Karl Kister, Katie Shapiro

Executive producers: Dave Berlin, Walker Deibel, Joni Eddy, Chad Troutwine

Director of photography: Zack Armstrong

Editors: Zack Armstrong, Davis Coombe, Tim Kaminski

Not rated, 79 min.

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