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La Vie en Verte Explores Cannabis Collective

9 July 2010 News 120,480 views 7 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Arguably one of the least pretentious artistic endeavors to originate in France, La Vie en Verte commits to video an unprecedented take on the American marijuana collective experience. This low-budget enterprise guides its audience through the story of WAMM, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, with disarming simplicity: Sick people ingest cannabis and get better, until conflict with a contentious outside world brings them to fight.

The debut documentary from directors Charles and Bevin Bell-Hall, La Vie en Verte — translatation: The Life in Green — took the documentary audience award at this year’s Santa Cruz Film Festival. Charles Hall, 30, drove much of the film’s development, but shared all production responsibilities with his 26-year-old wife  Bevin Bell-Hall.

The documentary began to germinate in 2002. Studying in Paris, the Halls caught news of upheaval in Santa Cruz, home of the university that had just granted them a semester of study abroad. Federal agents had raided WAMM, a legal  and local medical marijuana collective. Next, the patients making up WAMM, some of them terminally ill, responded with a widely covered protest by hundreds in the streets of Santa Cruz. One of the culminating moments of this civil unrest was the Mayor Christopher Khrone passing out marijuana to patients on the steps of City Hall.

Those Internet reports led the Halls, long-time supporters of marijuana legalization, to pursue a short film about medical and vaporized marijuana, set inside a WAMM meeting. But after a single session with WAMM co-founder Valerie Corral the two filmmakers came to the immediate understanding that a larger project had come into their lives.

The Bevin-Halls made graduate school work of La Vie en Verte and had long finished  with UC Santa Cruz by the time of their film’s May festival circuit premier.

What the Halls have brought to this screen is something like a bucolic, slow-paced  advertisement for the healing powers of marijuana; while watching the film, it’s all but impossible not to think of a friend or family member who suffers pointlessly because of America’s inexplicably retro drug  policy. 

But La Vie en Verte succeeds as something more than an effective long-form ad, and this is largely because of the elevated, knowing presence of Corral. She floats through the film like a red-headed sage. The magnetic way in which this “accidental activist” drew in its documenters led to the film’s referential title.

“When we were thinking about what the movie looks like, we kept coming back to WAMM looking at life in a different mode,’ says Bevin Bell-Hall, 26. “More than just the marijuana, it’s they way that they care about each other.”

There’s a particular power in witnessing advocacy for the freedom to enjoy marijuana’s benefits when the gesture comes from ill people who need the drug purely to live or survive. One WAMM member interviewed for La Vie en Verte says she was asked after the 2002 federal raid how it felt to be seen by her own government as an enemy combatant in the war on drugs.

“I’m living with a terminal illness,” the woman relates in a deadpan fashion. “That’s frightening. The Federal government? They can’t hold a candle that.”

The most in-your-face aspect about the documentary is a relentless caring captured by the Halls’s cameras and recorders. The Eastern adage give what one can, take what you need underpins the WAMM way of being, and the spirit of this notion seeps up into every one of La Vie en Verte’s images of plant cultivation, its candid discussion of illnesss and recovery and, ultimately, the manner in which Corral and others face a physical demise that’s only more concrete reality for some of us than others. The inevitability of death may well be the justification for a life in green.

“We went in talking about marijuana, and Valerie kept talking about end of life,” says Charlie Hall, whose film has yet to link with a distributor. “Communities all across the world are dealing with marijuana issues,” “What we hope to do with this film is offer it as an example: This is what they have done.”


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