Hot Docs International Film Festival 2021 Review: Lady Buds

Year: 2021

Runtime: 96 minutes

Director: Chris J. Russo

Cast: Sue Taylor, Chiah Rodriques, Felicia Carbajal, Karyn Wagner, “The Bud Sisters”

By Joan Amenn

Since 2016 when Proposition 64 legalized recreational marijuana use in California, it has been the best and worst of times for small cannabis farmers. Director Chris J. Russo is to be congratulated on a debut feature that is engaging, entertaining, educating and above all, inspiring. The women who are the focus of ‘Lady Buds” (2021) are all strong, smart and dedicated to fighting for their community that has been threatened by big business and indifferent government bureaucracy.

Through a series of vignettes, we get to know the stories of these women and through a wonderfully paced film, we feel like we become friends with all of them. Cannabis plays a unique role in each of their lives, from farming to advocating to entrepreneurship. However, their struggle to survive the government regulations that are clearly designed to drive them out is a force that unites them. Some spent decades growing cannabis undetected by local police enforcement so it is ironic and heartbreaking to see their hard work being stifled now that they no longer have to hide their livelihood. For example, when wildfires burned through Mendocino County, owners of vineyards were allowed to return to assess the damage to their lands but the cannabis farmers were not, for no expressed reason. The implied prejudice carries over to struggles to gain permits for buildings and dispensary licenses.

In the end, these women roll with the punches and do whatever it takes to survive a rapidly changing world. Sometimes just holding on to fight another day at City Hall becomes a lengthy struggle, as was the case for Sue Taylor who worked for twelve years to finally open a dispensary and advocacy space for senior citizens. She put all of her own retirement funds as well as the pooled resources of family members into her dream and it is the highlight of the film to see it come to fruition.

Others were not so lucky but they find ways to stay engaged in the business of cannabis despite the influx of corporate agriculture with their huge factory-style greenhouses. Marketing campaigns for small growers, much like those created for organic produce and farmer’s markets, help to keep them in business. Advocates like Felicia Cabajal have also turned to running for political office so that their community cannot be ignored or downplayed. Each of the women of “Lady Buds” contribute in their own way to the fight to continue their way of life and Russo has done a great job in elevating their voices in this stirring documentary.

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