WEED & WINE was conceived in 2016 out of a pursuit of personal pleasure. In the end, it was born in spring 2020, a moment of profound global uncertainty, as the world hung on the edge of pandemic, and families returned to each other for safety and solace.
When I began developing the research that would become the film, I imagined a cinematic love letter: a lush meditation on two plants whose relationship to people and place is layered and dynamic. French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote in 1957 about wine as a receptacle of cultural mythology in France—a product rich in symbolism, steeped in and inextricable from French identity. “Wine is felt by the French nation to be a possession which is its very own, just like its three hundred and sixty types of cheese and its culture,” he wrote. “It is a totem-drink, corresponding to the milk of the Dutch cow or the tea ceremonially taken by the British Royal Family.”
So too, I thought, with cannabis. Located somewhere on the American cultural spectrum between criminal and counter-culture (though headed quickly toward the mainstream), cannabis in the United States is more than a plant, or a medicine, or even a drug. It is the badge of outlaws and outsiders. It is a rebuke of America’s Puritan seriousness. It is medicine and spiritual rite, precious and mysterious even as it is mostly ubiquitous. And yet, unlike wine in France, cannabis enjoys no national pride of place, no patriotic reverence.
I was drawn to the narrative power inherent in this juxtaposition between weed and wine: two emblematic plants, one honored and protected, the other outlawed.
At the outset, I knew that my “way in” to the stories of wine and weed would be through their growers. The most fun set of research trips I will likely have in my entire career led me to the Jodreys in Humboldt County and the Thibons in the Rhone Valley. Each family lived in its own culture so deeply: they were as much unique products of their land as their plants were. I watched how they brimmed with love, in all its glorious complexity, both for their craft and for each other. And through these visits, another storyline emerged.
Some families have parents who march off to an office or a factory each day, and whose children have no intention of—indeed no path to—inheriting a generational vocation. The Jodreys and the Thibons were strikingly different. Like fewer and fewer of us in the 21st century, their relationships and their livelihoods were tightly tethered to each other. Heaped on top of the difficult and uncertain work they did as farmers was the work they did as parents and children. That work—in all its pain and beauty—became the overarching story I couldn’t ignore.
And then a twist came in my own family life. After more than three years of development and production, I became pregnant with my own first child. As I finished the film, I also prepared for her birth, and she was born five days after the film was complete. In the credits, she is thanked only as “TBD Richman Cohen,” as her name was still to be decided on the day the credits were locked. The end of WEED & WINE—with all of its meditation on the relationships between parent and child—marked the beginning of my life as a parent.
Watching the film now, with my infant daughter sleeping on my chest and my aging parents beside us—all of us together as we weather the first weeks of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States—I see that a film that I thought would be about the historical symbolism of two powerful plants is also about the fragility and power of our present moment. The Thibons and Jodreys taught me that the anxiety and guesswork of farming is also matched by its wonder and beauty, and that parenting is much the same. A labor of love and exhaustion. A project of courage and fear, perhaps in equal parts.
In the end, I hope WEED & WINE is a reminder that none of us—farmer, consumer, parent, child—is stronger than the cultural networks of which we are a part. Heritage dramatically impacts how we view the plants we consume. It shapes how we celebrate or marginalize the growers who cultivate the them. It determines how we perceive the people we define as farmers and artisans.
So too does age, time, culture and circumstances shift our perceptions of parent and child. Of how we will answer the age-old question of whether it is the parents who raise the children, or vice versa, or both. Of independence and interdependence. Of competing and complementary notions of freedom. Of how to grow and flourish in a world rife with change.
For me, making this film was at first a lesson in the importance of interrogating and redefining my own understandings of wine, cannabis, family and farming—thereby perceiving each anew through the lens of this story. Perhaps it will also be that for you.
Today, it also feels like the love letter I first intended: not only to wine and to cannabis, but to the preciousness and precariousness of family—and the lifelong project we all must take to care for each other in the face of uncertainty.
—Rebecca Richman Cohen