SXSW: Film explores Denver Post's marijuana beat 

click to enlarge Ricardo Baca, the world's first marijuana editor, watched the premier of "Rolling Papers" Sunday night at SXSW. - BEN FELDER
  • Ben Felder
  • Ricardo Baca, the world's first marijuana editor, watched the premier of "Rolling Papers" Sunday night at SXSW.

In 2011, when Page One, a documentary about The New York Times, was shown at South By Southwest, it was viewed as an important modern day film about journalism and helped to elevate the celebrity status of Times’ reporter David Carr, who had become a SXSW favorite.

Sunday night, Rolling Papers premiered at SXSW with a similar feel.

Director Mitch Dickman followed the The Denver Post for a year as it launched a new beat covering the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. During an era of declining revenues for print journalism, The Post made Ricardo Baca the editor of TheCannabist.co, the website where The Post’s marijuana reporting would be presented.

Baca may not have the resume of Carr’s when Page One debuted, but his status has been elevated over the past year and Rolling Papers will push his profile higher, along with showcasing creative and aggressive reporting that could bring print journalism into a new era.

“My editor was certainly of the belief that this was one of the biggest stories of the decade and he wanted somebody to cover it with the respect it deserves,” Baca said following Sunday’s premier.

In the film, Baca helps wrangle a small team of reporters to tackle the pot beat, including two pot critics. Baca’s reporting includes uncovering a company selling edibles with almost no THC content, which was instrumental in the state strengthening its regulations. He also traveled to Uruguay, cameras in tow, to explore the country’s own legalization effort.

The film not only explores the legalization of pot in Colorado, but the criticism Baca receives from even his fellow co workers for putting a spotlight on a controversial subject.

“If you go to The Cannabist right now you will see breaking news right next to a pot review next to a feature,” Baca said. “We’ve come under a lot of fire for creating a portal like The Cannabist, but I think it’s important work.”

The Cannabist is not a “stoner” website, and Rolling Papers is not a “stoner film.”

“We didn’t want to make a stoner film or an issue film about marijuana,” Dickman said. “I think journalists are the ones doing the day in and day out work, and offer us perspective and a good sub-story for what we are trying to tell.”

The film takes on the topic of pot in a serious manner, but it is not without its lighter moments. There are high subjects in the movie, lots of giggles and over-the-top presentations of the marijuana buds discussed in the film.

Dickman also uses a variety of descriptive music to give the movie a playful feel.

“I’ve learned a lot [over the past year],” Baca said. “Part of what I learned is that we’ve been lied to for a number of decades [about the risk of marijuana], and in many respects this drug is far safer than alcohol.”

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