By Dale Beaumont-Brown, director of
GrassRoots: The Cannabis Revolution
First of all, I emphatically believe we DO need another documentary about cannabis. And here’s why.
In the past year we have seen a variety of different documentaries about cannabis. The Culture High was perhaps the biggest and most high-profile. It dealt with the war on drugs and the role cannabis has in popular culture. There was Bud Buddies: Project Storm, which focused on the struggle to provide cannabis oil to cancer patients in the UK. Notable mentions also go to ‘The 41st Shade’, about the cannabis issue in Ireland, ‘Evergreen’and the TV series ‘Pot Barons’ that came from the United States, and of course SanjayGupta’s ‘Weed’ documentaries.
What they all have in common is cannabis, that’s for certain; however what separates them from my documentary, ‘GrassRoots: TheCannabis Revolution’, is that none of them focus specifically on the people at the core of the campaign to change drug laws and to allow safe access. This is GrassRoots’ goal, its sole intention. We have done this over the past 2 ½ years, and I intend to spend the next few hundred words explaining why.
Let me provide a little background first. My name is DaleBeaumont-Brown, and I am a documentary filmmaker based in Norwich, UK. I also run a small production company called Elixir Media Production. I got involved with filmmaking because one day I had an epiphany, I thought to myself, ‘I do not want to work in car insurance all my life, I went to uni because I wanted to be a filmmaker and that’s what I shall become’. That light-bulb moment was 8 years ago and I’ve not looked back.
Right from the get-go I started with social-issue films and docu-shorts for 3rd sector organisations and charities for free. Then as my reputation got ahead of me, to my disbelief people/orgs soon started giving me small amounts of money to produce content and documentaries about issues and people. Even then, early on in my filmmaking career I knew I wanted to make documentaries; conveying reality just felt more like a more pure and organic form of storytelling. Telling a story, ultimately, is something I’ve always endeavoured to do.
Fast forward to mid-2012 and a young man named ClarkFrench got in touch with me via Facebook one day. Many of you know Clark as a medical cannabis patient and prominent activist having had a hand in setting-up NORML UK, the United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs and the United PatientsAlliance. Then, I only knew Clark as my cousin, and hadn’t seen or heard from him in well over a decade. Clark told me he had Multiple Sclerosis and we decided to meet for a cuppa.
During the meeting Clark would say things like, “Cannabis is my medicine”, and he would tell me of his recent TV and radio appearances along with mentioning the activism work he was fast becoming recognised for. Straight away my head was filled with all manner of questions such as;
– Why does he keep calling cannabis his medicine in lieu of many other prescriptions meds?
– How many other people use cannabis as a medicine and for what illnesses do they consume it?
– What is the current situation surrounding the law and cannabis and why is it still illegal?
I decided there and then to make a short documentary looking into answering some of these questions. But mostly to try and focus on telling Clark’s story in his words, about how cannabis affects his day-to-day life.
I started doing what any documentary filmmaker would do at this point, A LOT of research and reading into cannabis and planning for our first shoot, in AMSTERDAM! It was to be the 25th High Times cannabis cup and I had a week of interviews lined up and access to the cup itself. Also, Clark and I were due to bunk together and would’ve had the perfect opportunity to explore some of the issues I wanted to cover in my film. This was not to be the case however…
12 hours before flying out to Amsterdam Clark called me nearly in tears; he was being sick a lot, was very nauseous and could not focus. He had to pull out of Amsterdam. ‘But I’ve paid for the hotel room for the two of us for the week!’, ‘And I’ve paid for my flights!’. All thoughts I was having at the time; but none of which compared to what Clark was experiencing. Not a jot. Not even close. It would take me a few more filming trips with Clark to realise the full, debilitating extent of his condition, but, in that moment, I selfishly couldn’t comprehend. It was an experience that inspired me to want to tell his story even more, as I continued with my plan and went to film in Amsterdam for the first time. That was November 2012.
Since then, in an attempt to document the world of medical cannabis and cannabists (cannabis campaigners), GrassRoots has taken me far and wide. Barcelona (twice), Amsterdam (twice), Denver, Colorado, San Francisco, California and the length and breadth of the UK have been my ports. But now you’re probably wondering how it was I came to visit these places and why?
When I got home from Amsterdam (the first time) we eventually managed to sort out some filming with Clark over the course of a ‘smoke-out’ picnic, much like the old ‘smokey bears’ picnics. It was filming at these public displays of defiance and civil-disobedience that gave me the opportunity to meet and greet the UK cannabis activism and medical scene. Birmingham, Reading, Cardiff, Bristol, London, Norwich, Oxford, Manchester, Brighton, Basingstoke; and more. Every time I attended these events with a camera I would see a different story, a different face, but also the same story; Police, having to attend peaceful protests instead of being available to other people actually in need. Every protest I went to, I made a point of engaging with the local Bobbies, and the majority of the time they disagreed with why they were even there in the first place. It seemed that the activists and the Police saw eye-to-eye on this.
Through knowing Clark, and getting to know people at these picnics and protests, a narrative began to form, one of a grassroots of committed and empowered people who would not back down to authority and political structure, in order to preserve the sanctity of their rights and their medicine. The narrative became a story of a movement from the ground up, one told by the people within it. The people with Crohn’s, Cancer, HIV, MS, ME, Anxiety, Depression, and other diseases, illnesses and ailments, had chosen to speak to me at every opportunity and I felt a moral and social obligation to the patients and campaigners to produce a feature-length documentary about these inspiring people.
Along the way I have also managed to explore drug policy and reform on a societal level by interviewing people such as former ChiefConstable of Cambridgeshire Police, Tom Lloyd, LEAP UK co-ordinator, Jason Reed, and former undercover drugs squad officer, Neil Woods. These valuable insights provide an awareness of where the efforts of the campaigners and medical patients will fit into a United Kingdom that still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug.
GrassRoots also deals with areas where cannabis is already an industry, generating income and producing cannabis for medical patients. As a direct juxtaposition to the current UK climate, we explore the cannabis social club scene in Barcelona, the coffee shops of The Netherlands and provide an insight into medical marijuana dispensaries in California and Colorado.
In closing; you could say this story and it’s people chose me as its storyteller, but what I do know for definite is that this is your story. This is why you need another film about cannabis: it explores, on a grassroots level, the struggle and fight that people with debilitating conditions have to go through day-in-day-out to get safe access. I have had the great privilege and pleasure to capture many of these stories, and this is not just my film; it is our film.
We are now in April, 2015 and filming has just about been completed after 2 ½ years. I have invested so much of myself in terms of time, effort and finances over the past couple of years and it has all been out of my own pocket. In order to finish the film however, we have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the costs of post-production. Things such as: editing, production of an original score, a sound mix, colour grade and marketing costs for promotion and graphic design. These things cost money that we simply don’t have, which is why we’re crowd-funding; to turn to you, our audience, to get involved and have a say in the final stages. This is so we can actually finish off GrassRoots and make it the film that you deserve it to be.
You can find the Kickstarter page link below, anything that you can do at this stage would be a huge help, even if that just means sharing on your social media such as Twitter or Facebook. The campaign draws to a close at 23:59pm on Wednesday 13th May, and it is all-or-nothing, meaning if we do not reach the goal by that time, then we get nothing. This is your story, please help us to finish it.
Thank you for your time.
Director/Producer, GrassRoots: The Cannabis Revolution