In her latest documentary, Weed & Wine, filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen captures the fleeting joys and profound challenges that come with being a multi-generational farmer in the modern world.
By focusing on two pools of subjects half a world apart, Cohen reveals how much craft farmers in both cannabis and viticulture truly share in common.
Deep in the woods of Humboldt, Kevin Jodrey and his son Nocona cultivate cannabis while navigating California’s impending legalization of adult-use sales. In the Ardèche region of France’s Southern Rhone Valley, Hélène Thibon and her son, Aurélien-Nathanaël Thibon-Macagno, face the bleak realities of climate change while readying their centuries-old vineyard for another harvest.
While there are naturally contrasts in the respective operations, what sticks out more is how aligned the two clans are ultimately revealed to be when it comes to matters of soil integrity, sustainability practices, and viewing their work as being in service of the plant itself.
Speaking with SF Weekly, Cohen said that was essentially what she pitched to Hélène Thibon in hopes of getting the family-run, biodynamic vineyard onboard with the idea of being in a film with cannabis farmers.
“She immediately got it,” Cohen recalled. “She was like, ‘We’re all farmers who care about the land.’ I think it was a little bit of a harder sell to convince the rest of the family, but I left that to Hélène.”
Currently streaming through Oct. 18 as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival’s virtual presentation this year, Weed & Wine is an unflinching yet heartfelt examination of what it means to tie one’s fate to the soil and what will grow within it.
Packed with shots of natural splendor, it also includes scenes of profound stress as a vitally important harvest season approaches for both families and their prized crops. As Aurélien oversees the vinification process for the Thibon’s winery for the first time, Nocona speaks candidly about a childhood that sometimes involved hiding from helicopters or staying in hotels during raids.
One thing Cohen said she didn’t expect was that her movie would also be an apt reflection of parenting during times of uncertainty.
“I’d just had a baby in February,” she explained, “like a few weeks before the pandemic started. A lot of making this film was about my march towards parenting. When the pandemic first hit, it felt like a terrible time to release the film — and in many ways, it still is — but I watched it a month or two after my baby was born, with my aging parents, and it did feel really relevant in terms of parenting in times of profound uncertainty.”
Kevin Jodrey, who is currently cultivating flower in partnership with a Cookies-affiliated dispensary in Humboldt, told SF Weekly that watching the film in which he co-stars underscored how much his story shares with that of the Thibon family, though they’ve never met.
“I’ve been in cannabis since I was 12,” said Jodrey. “I’ve spent my entire life dreaming of Humboldt County becoming this sustainable agricultural area that produces world-class cannabis and where the people who cultivate it were treated normally. To see cannabis next to wine in this film was awesome. It allowed me to see that they struggle just the same as we do. if you’re a farmer, you struggle.”
Though Weed & Wine makes no secret of the challenges facing craft cannabis farmers and and winemakers, it also makes time to celebrate what makes their professions worth the long hours of labor and ceaseless logistical headaches.
Cohen acknowledged that it was a challenge to capture something as ethereal as terroir, a French term which refers to the characteristics of a natural environment which collectively influence a crop’s flavor and taste. Most commonly associated with wine, the concept is also fully applicable to sungrown, regionally-specific cannabis as well.
“I’m very proud of this film and I think it evokes a lot of things,” Cohen said, “but there is nothing that compares to actually being in those places. We filmed in two of the most extraordinarily beautiful places on the planet. There is nothing more wonderful than smoking some weed with the farmer who grew it or having a wonderful bottle of wine with the vintner who made it.”
Jodrey, who was one of the first public figures to advocate for a statewide cannabis appellation system (he even welcomed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom for a tour of his farm in 2015), said he feels the timing is perfect for Weed & Wine’s message.
Recalling his joy over last month’s California Senate vote to establish a framework for just such an appellation program, Jodrey also acknowledges the daily challenges that wildfires, regulations, and the COVID-19 pandemic still present to craft cannabis farmers.
Noting that hardship will always come with the territory, Jodrey says his desire for Cohen’s film is that it will help viewers to better understand why folks like Thibon and himself continue to dedicate their lives to the craft.
“That’s really what I wanted to get across in the film,” he said, “that the struggle is real, but so is the passion.”
Weed & Wine is available to stream for $10 from Oct. 9-18 at mvff.com.