Cash Crop Directed by: Adam Ross Cast: Sefton Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins Rating: Unrated Release Date: October 15, 2010 (limited)
PLOT: Documents cannabis growers up and down the Emerald Triangle, an area in California famous for marijuana production.
WHO'S IT FOR? Teenagers and adults interested in the topic of marijuana legalization. While they're sober.
EXPECTATIONS: Most of what I know about the pot growers comes from the news and blog posts. I kind of expected it to be along the lines of Food, Inc or The Cove. I also thought it would be pro-marijuana legalization.
Sefton as himself: Most of the people who appear in the film are only identified by a title, such as "Business Owner" or "Cannabis Farmer." Sefton is one of the only people identified by name, and it's only his first name at that. But I also list him because he's plays an important role in the film. He's our tour guide through California, introducing us to important figures in the cannabis community. Most of these figures are farmers who cultivate cannabis. Some show their faces, others cover themselves with scarves, but the semi-legality of what they do is very clear. Sefton looks like a stoner in the classic Spicoli mode. Of course he's a surfer and of course he smokes pot. But he's also almost evangelical about his drug of choice. Over the course of the film, I grew to respect him for his knowledge of and passion for his drug of choice. My only problem is that I don't really know what to call him. He's not really a drug courier, but he does some sort of work along those lines. Maybe a Johnny Appleseed of the California cannabis community? Score: 7
TALKING: There's absolutely no narration in this film, it's entirely composed of dialogue edited together. The benefit is a genuine first person narrative that is probably less biased than a normal documentary. But I found that I missed a point of view from the filmmakers. Without their help, I had the task of deciding how much I wanted to take each of the speakers at their word, which was kind of tricky since so many of the people only show up for a short space of time. I don't know much about the California Cannabis community and I'm not really up on all the state laws either, so I found understanding the legality of what was going on confusing at times. Also, I would have liked to hear the filmmakers take on some of the stories. Some shop owners and farmers describe having their wares confiscated by the cops without provocation, and often without going to jail. I don't really understand the legality of this and I'd like to hear more from law enforcements side of things. Score: 6
SIGHTS: The film is shot beautifully. It half made me want to jump on a plane to California. Granted, a lot of scenes are underground in grow rooms, which aren't the most scenic places, but still. Score: 7
SOUNDS: The score was fine, I didn't really notice it so that means it did what a soundtrack is meant to, right? Score: 6
BEST SCENE: I liked the dispensary scenes earlier on. The filmmakers spent too little time on them.
ENDING: Marijuana legalization is a hot topic in California right now, and as such the film doesn't really feel over. Though it ties up what few loose threads it left, it doesn't feel done.
QUESTIONS: Exactly how lucrative is owning a small marijuana farm? How much do the growers in the film really risk going to jail? Is it safer to grow for medical purposes rather than recreational? If chronically ill and terminally ill patients feel better after using marijuana, why shouldn't we allow them to continue doing so? Are cops in Southern California confiscating the money and drugs from dispensaries for their own gain?
REWATCHABILITY: If I saw the film again, I'd want to see it with someone who could watch with me and answer my questions.
Cash Crop is an interesting, if sometimes frustrating film. I like a film that allows me to think for myself, but in the case of this one I would've liked a little help now and then. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to create an anecdotal history of cannabis production that spoke for itself, but it does so a little too much. Early on in the film, a couple of men who own a medical marijuana dispensary allege that cops broke in and confiscated their cash and stock not so much because it was illegal, but because they use the money to pay for the department. It's also alleged that the cops keep some of the money. Those kind of allegations are pretty serious, and I wanted the filmmakers to look into that a bit more before they moved off to the second part of the film, showing where the cannabis is grown in the north. Though the sheriff of a small community where cannabis is a crop that helps support the local economy speaks at length and very sensibly for legalizing the drug, he never says anything about the earlier allegations. No one really does. A lawyer mentions the same thing again, but there's no proof, it's a weird plot thread that's left dangling. If it's true, they should be held accountable, and if it's not that's libel. Later in the film, the filmmakers find their footing a bit more while visiting various cannabis grow sites with Sefton. It's pretty interesting and shows that being a grower, though it looks like an easy way to make money, is actually pretty hard work. The film works as a window into the cannabis economy in California, but leaves me with more questions than answers.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10