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An amusing if narrowly focused document, "Weed" looks at the eighth annual Cannabis Cup & Hemp Expo, a pot enthusiast's convention held in Amsterdam. Straight-up examination doesn't fully milk surface action's humor potential, or underlying subject's educational aspects.

An amusing if narrowly focused document, “Weed” looks at the eighth annual Cannabis Cup & Hemp Expo, a pot enthusiast’s convention held in Amsterdam (of course). Straight-up examination doesn’t fully milk surface action’s humor potential, or underlying subject’s educational aspects (already more fully explored in the 1995 feature docu “The Hemp Revolution”). But there’s an audience out there who will enjoy “Weed” as a vicarious stoner’s vacation. Filmmaker Doug Wolens is successfully self-distribbing pic in limited gigs around the country.

Amsterdam is well known by “heads” internationally for its liberal laws re marijuana and hash, which are sold over the counter in myriad “coffee shops” that range in flavor from cafe-like to discotheque-ish. The annual five-day gathering attracts tourists — mostly American, it seems — who pay for the privilege of “judging” these establishments and their smoking wares on the basis of atmosphere, food/drink extras, potency and flavor. There are also sideline seminars, which spur film’s fairly brief discussions about legality, medical and religious applications and hemp’s seemingly endless potential use as an eco-friendly (if largely outlawed) fiber source for clothing, paper, food and even washing detergent.

Mostly, however, we follow various self-professed “bud freaks” as they maintain — rather admirably, with just a few bleary eyes and no stoned rants — amid five days’ heavy toking. At times the festivities are self-parodying, as when a half-nude, green-tinted “Princess Cannabis” titillates guests at one major event, or when a blowtorch is used to light a particularly humongous bong.

But helmer Wolens respectfully avoids having too much fun with the expo’s more excessive aspects, while not giving us much big-picture insight into its attendees (or what, if any, impact such liberal policies have had on Dutch society). Docu tends to grow a tad repetitious over short running time, but remains engaging and pacey enough.

Transferred to 35mm, images remain clearly vid-shot, with a lot of hand-held camerawork and some murky sound during interviews in crowded coffee shops. Given those limitations, tech package is reasonably well handled.


Production: A Doug Wolens release of a Wolens production. Produced by Wolens, Gary Schwartz, Claudia Kussano. Directed by Doug Wolens.

Crew: Camera (color, video to 35mm), sound, Hilary Morgan, Wolens; editors, Tom Bullock, Wolens. Reviewed at the Red Vic Movie House, San Francisco, July 21, 1997. Running time: 64 min.

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