When you watch a documentary called Weed & Wine, you pretty much know what you're getting into: you're going to learn about two worlds that are similar and yet different. This is personified in a cannabis farmer from California and a family vineyard in France. The film does this quite well. I was genuinely interested, and learned in a way that didn't feel heavy handed. I know I love to talk about cinematography a lot, but this really was gorgeous. Everything looked like it was shot at twilight. I even found myself noting how cool and fun the soundtrack was. In a documentary not about music, that's impressive. The filmmaker already met their objectives, but we still had all this time left... So how do they turn it into art?
This isn't a story about two separate businesses – it really is the same industry. Each has plants that are cultivated in a similar fashion, with an intricate eye towards botany. They both supply a commodity which is harvested and sold in very competitive markets. They are considered essential cultural staples, with health benefits, but mostly relegated to leisure and a history of being outlawed. What this story boils down to is the shared generational struggle of farmers. Both households started from nothing and slowly trained their future generations. Each child begins with a little bit more than the last, and toils up a harrowing class system, all the while passing down reverence and ritual for tradition. Ultimately, the final product is a matter of taste, which must be agreed upon as a family.
When it comes to storytelling, I love the work of Joseph Campbell. I love to be told the same type of fable and hear the cultural differences continents apart. If you are telling more than one story at the same time, you usually start them at two different points in their arch. This way, they can weave together later on, much like the shape of a DNA strand (Kurt Vonnegut was a master of this). What is so unique about this film is that the story is told as if in tandem. The editing is so good that thoughts which start in California seem to finish effortlessly with French subtitles. Watching this feels like flowing down a steady river that solidifies its thesis the faster it goes. It's incredibly hard to write this way, let alone cobble it together from found footage.
The contrast of the two worlds is presented in a way that gives it the feeling of time travel. We hear the history of the vineyards struggle to be accepted, then see a father fighting to legitimize his business. We watch one story start, as the other shows us how it will end. We are shown a legacy, while confronted with the struggle that was needed to get there. One is fighting for the independence of youth, while the other struggles to age gracefully. It shows us not to make the same mistakes, while warning of the problems to come.
In the end, Weed & Wine is the story you expected, but with a personal depth and history you didn't. It makes you think about tangible issues through the lens of artistic nuance. Quite simply, it's brain food. While it stimulates all the senses, in a savoury, palatable way, you leave thinking about how nourishing it actually was.
Weed & Wine is playing as part of Devour! 9.5, a hybrid in-person/online version of Nova Scotia's annual Devour! The Food Film Fest that includes online screenings, workshops, and special programming so foodies and cinephiles around the world can experience the festival. With this new online component, anyone can attend virtually from October 21-25, 2020. For information on the local and online schedule, or to buy tickets, visit devourfest.com.