Back in 2008, the medical marijuana movement had taken hold in Colorado and producers Britta Erickson, Daniel Junge and Alison Greenberg-Millice started working on a documentary film that they subsequently shelved. But when recreational legalization happened, they revisited the idea and recruited Katie Shapiro to help revive the project. Shapiro has worked with Erickson at the Denver Film Society since 2010 and trusted her instincts. One key development that piqued their interest: The Denver Post had appointed Ricardo Baca as its marijuana editor.
“Britta at that point shifted the focus and thought it would be the better story,” says Shapiro, who grew up in Bath, Ohio, and says she still has fond memories of smoking weed (out of an apple, no less) for the very first time in 1994 at a Steve Miller concert at Blossom. “Britta had done a similar documentary in 2008 called Convention
. It followed the Rocky Mountain News
staff as they reported on the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Having that experience with the newsroom and hearing that The Denver Post
had made this decision was the tipping point.”
The film’s camera crew was on the ground with Baca from day one, following him over the course of that year as he built the Post
’s website, The Cannabist
, from scratch along with a team of journalists. The resulting documentary, Rolling Papers
, follows his exploits. It opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
Baca defies the stoner stereotype. A serious reporter committed to his craft even in the wake of mass layoffs and downsizing, he approaches the subject with the scrutiny of an investigative reporter. In one scene, he even exposes an edibles company that's been lying about the THC content of its products.
“He’s been with the Post
for 13 years,” says Shapiro, who also contributes to the Post as a freelancer. “He was the music editor prior to becoming the marijuana editor. He launched Reverb
, which was their music site. He translated the work into The Cannabist
, which is really impressive especially with it being such a high profile news story. It’s not accepted everywhere as it is in Colorado but he’s able to turn it into what it is today. I’m coincidentally also a writer for The Cannabist
. That happened at the same time but not intentionally. Having the opportunity to work with him as my editor and follow him as a filmmaker is a unique experience. I’ve learned so much from him. It’s been a whirlwind of a two-year project.”
Much like the craft beer industry, which has blossomed in the past decade, the weed industry in Colorado has blossomed. With its artfully filmed shots of various strands of marijuana, Rolling Papers
captures the way the weed industry has embraced designer strands of pot.
“We had this concrete deadline. We started shooting on January 1 of 2014 and wrapped up one year later on January 1 of 2015,” says Shapiro. Now it’s two years later and the film is coming out. Even in that second year, the business and industry part exploded and new things are happening every day. [The Cannabist
] is doing great and since we wrapped a lot has happened as well. They launched a weekly cannabis show. Ricardo is the host they have different guests on every week. Those run through Denver Post
TV. There have been some changes with some of the writers, but everyone is still involved in some way or another. It’s still an active and thriving site."