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The Hemp Revolution (1995)

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Making a hemp advocacy documentary is an uphill cinematic battle because of the unintentional humor that surfaces. It is difficult to keep a straight face when you're told that hemp can be used to build "anything from a 2x4 to the body of a stealth jet bomber"; or how hemp packaging would allow you to "eat the container for dessert" in fast-food joints; or that commercial hemp could be "the greatest economic engine in the history of the human race." Of course, the truth is that these assertions are perfectly legitimate. Unfortunately, hemp has become so marginalized in our society that the myriad benefits of the substance appear as ridiculous pipe dreams, when in fact they are achievable realities.

Australian producer-director Anthony Clarke does a commendable job in researching and outlining hemp's numerous strengths. He loosely divides his work into six sections--hemp for paper, textiles, fuel, medicine, and "inspiration" and the U.S. government's role in squelching all of these uses--supplying substantial and convincing evidence throughout. Clarke also puts hemp in its proper historical context and examines the combination of dubious forces--DuPont, Hearst, racist groups, and a commissioner of narcotics named Harry Anslinger, who had time (and idle employees) on his hands because of the repeal of prohibition--that led to hemp's criminalization in 1938. Clarke talks with a range of people to illustrate his points, from well-known authorities such as Dr. Lester Grinspoon and Dr. Andrew Weil to the head of the Netherlands' drug policy to Everyman hemp-seed chefs and hemp outfitters.

In a few spots, the less-than-elegant production--visible in the hemp fashion montage, the cheap semi-psychedelic visual effects, the noodling musical interludes, and the slow-motion shots of the big, bad cops--weakens the film's impact. Yet overall, Clarke offers a comprehensive, fact-filled, often touching statement that vividly identifies the villains (pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and logging industries; the federal government) and the victims (farmers, patients, people). --Marc Greilsamer