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The Hemp Revolution hits the big screen

Posted on January 1, 1996

A plant for all seasons

The Hemp RevolutionEmerald fields of cannabis plants — and smoking petrochemical plants. A bearded Californian lifting trays of hemp paper — and an Australian eucalyptus forest decimated for wood pulp. An elderly Nepalese grinning as he exhales a plume of black-hash smoke — and armed narcs kicking in doors while Drug Warriors from Harry Anslinger to George Bush proclaim imminent victory. These are the images at war in The Hemp Revolution, an ambitious documentary that aspires to be the celluloid equivalent of Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes.

Australian director Anthony Clarke’s film covers the industrial, medical, recreational and spiritual uses of cannabis, and speculates on rationales for the plant’s illegality. Many of its interviewees will be familiar to High Times readers: Lester Grinspoon of Harvard and NORML; psychedelics researcher Terence McKenna; medical-marijuana advocate Elvy Musikka; and hemp-particleboard manufacturer Bill Conde, who says hemp could start “a new Industrial Revolution.” In Clarke’s vision, the plant’s multifarious uses — stalks for paper and cloth, leaves for ethanol fuel production and seeds for food and oil — are a way to end industry’s reliance on environmentally destructive synthetics and return the world to a plant-based economy.

Clarke previously worked on the Oscar-winning documentary The Panama Deception, which exposed the hypocrisies of the 1989 US invasion of Panama, and Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair. Originally he’d hoped to follow these successes with a film of his own on drug-smuggling, which he says “is being used for geopolitical power by some of the darkest forces on our planet.” That project stalled for lack of funding and focus, but Clarke’s research led him to The Emperor. “It really struck a chord,” he says.

The Hemp Revolution is an inspiring, if imperfect film. The entire story of cannabis is a lot to cover in 70 minutes. In the Drug War segment, I would like to have seen more emphasis on the numbers of people jailed for simple possession, and less on the theory that marijuana was outlawed because hemp threatened DuPont and Hearst’s petrochemical and wood-pulp profits (rather than because of prohibitionism laced with racism).

Some of the trippier visual sequences and soundtrack selections — such as “the natural cycle is calling” song lyrics — border on hippie kitsch. Nevertheless, the film presents a vivid case for industrial hemp and legal herb, leavening the details about “lignocellulosic ethanol feedstocks” with humor. The footage from Hemp for Victory and Reefer Madness is priceless.

The Hemp Revolution was scheduled to open in San Francisco and Colorado in September 1995. Clarke is working on financing for a larger theatrical release, which he believes will reach more of the unconverted than simply selling it on videocassette would. He plans to accompany screenings with panel discussions and hemp-fashion shows. The Hemp Revolution, he says, could be “a major educational tool for both the hemp and environmental movements.”

Copyright © 1996, High Times. All rights reserved.