On New Year’s Day 2014, media from near and far descended on a snowy Denver to capture a spectacle: the first legal sales of marijuana for recreational use.
Most crews left soon after. But one group of Denver-based filmmakers stayed on the story for a full year, following the staffers at the Denver Post as it became pot’s paper of record. The resulting feature-length documentary, “Rolling Papers,” screens Saturday at Aspen Filmfest.
“There were a bazillion cameras out there,” director Mitch Dickman recalls of the day pot went legal, “and we said, ‘Uh-oh, there’s a lot of competition.’ So we hung with it the whole time and over that year all the other feature documentaries fizzled out.”
“Rolling Papers” is about journalism as much as it’s about marijuana. It doesn’t retread the same issue-oriented territory of, say, Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed” specials on CNN or “Pot Barons of Colorado” on MSNBC. Instead, it follows the Post’s inaugural marijuana editor, the laid back and professional Ricardo Baca, as he takes the paper into uncharted territory. He and his staff chase hard news stories that inspire state regulators to take action, he hires pot critics to review strains, he launches the pot-centric Post website The Cannabist, and he becomes punchline fodder for the likes of Stephen Colbert and Bill O’Reilly.