'Green/is/Gold': LAFF Review

Courtesy of Film Independent
Intriguingly authentic.

Ryon Baxter's directorial debut won the audience award for best fiction feature at the LA Film Festival.

Filmmaker Ryon Baxter isn’t one to shirk the myriad challenges of a microbudget production, not only writing and directing, but also casting himself in a supporting role opposite his younger brother Jimmy in an offbeat coming-of-age drama centered on the intricacies of illegal pot production. Both unassuming and surprisingly affecting in its DIY authenticity, Green/is/Gold can contemplate a welcome reception in digital formats and could even manage a limited run in appropriately attuned markets.

The fundamental strength of Baxter's script is its matter-of-fact treatment of the underground marijuana trade in California, where cultivation for profit is still punishable under state and federal law. By integrating a charismatic youngster into his storyline, Baxter attempts to demonstrate that pot-growing is just another form of family farming, albeit with certain special considerations.

His protagonist is 13-year-old Mason (Jimmy Baxter), whose chaotic home life grows even more unstable after his single father (David Fine) gets sentenced to jail for a six-year stretch. His estranged older brother Cameron (director Baxter) takes up the slack, pulling Mason out of school and moving him up to Northern California, where he lives in the hills outside Petaluma. Mason soon discovers why Cameron prefers the remote setting, which makes an ideal location for his extensive pot plantation. Since Mason is already an avid smoker himself, he quickly acclimates to Cameron’s marginal lifestyle in the barely furnished home that he's renting until his crop comes in.

At first they're wary of each other following their long separation, but the brothers eventually develop a productive rapport. Although Cameron isn't much for parenting, providing minimal supervision and openly ridiculing the teachers at Mason's new school, his brother isn't looking for a father figure so much as an adult role model. For Mason, that means getting deeply involved in Cameron's crop production cycle by assisting with cultivation of the young seedlings in the grow-house, harvesting the maturing plants from the outdoor plantation and trimming the buds for market. With his entire annual income riding on a successful sale, Cameron faces the additional challenge of providing the guidance and care for Mason that he never received from their own father.

Cameron considers himself a pot grower rather than a dealer, and while he's cautious not to arouse the suspicion of neighbors or law enforcement, his frequently casual attitude about the business creates a degree of jeopardy for himself and Mason that constantly keeps the plot on a jittery edge, building to a nerve-tingling climax as the brothers risk everything they've been working for to turn green into gold.

Actor-helmer Baxter favors a no-frills filmmaking style, relying on practical locations, handheld camerawork and a cast consisting primarily of nonprofessionals. His scenes with younger brother Jimmy demonstrate the evolving dynamics of still-immature sibling rivalry and masculine one-upmanship that young men thrive on. The younger Baxter displays an easy naturalism that likely arises from playing a slightly fictionalized onscreen version of himself, but Jimmy gets a lot right about a young teen's tentative entry into adulthood.

Venue: LA Film Festival (U.S. Fiction Competition)
Production company: Transition Pictures

Cast: Jimmy Baxter, Ryon Baxter, Liz Clare, David Fine, Shelly Mitchell, James Moore, Carol Everest, Sam Cohen-Wade
Director-writer-producer: Ryon Baxter
Executive producer: Anthony Burns
Directors of photography: Justin Potter, Mike Revolvalcke 
Editor: James Everest
Music: Luca Young

Not rated, 81 minutes