Rolling Papers

Rolling Papers

Zachary Armstrong

AUSTIN - SXSW Film producer and senior programmer Jarod Neece bounded onto the stage Sunday night before the world premiere of Rolling Papers and laid it all out: "SXSW was born and raised on smoking weed." Pause. "I'm so [expletive] high right now."

He was in the right place. Rolling Papers isn't really a stoner movie - OK, at times it is - but a deep dive into how the Denver Post took on the story of legally bought and sold marijuana in Colorado.

In short, the paper took it very seriously. Post editor Greg Moore hired a marijuana editor, Ricardo Baca. "He had covered the music scene for quite a while, so I knew he was quite familiar with marijuana," Moore says in the film. Baca than recruited pot critics and assembled a team of reporters for a beat with no end of stories. The Post's weed blog, The Cannabist, is now among the most popular features on its website.

The film plays some of this for laughs. A bumping hip-hop score accompanies images of various weed strains rotating on a piece of velvet. But Rolling Papers is also a story of how one paper responded to the adapt-or-die imperative now wafting through newsrooms everywhere. In this sense it has more in common with the New York Times doc Page One, which played SXSW in 2011, as any drug film.

"My editor was of the belief that this was one of the biggest stories of the decade, and he worked to give it the attention he thought it deserved," Baca said after Sunday's premiere.

And that, as they say, is the straight dope.   

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