MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 19, 2021: LADY BUDS

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By turns idealistic and realistic, hopeful and frustrating, Chris J. Russo’s documentary Lady Buds is an engaging look at the budding (pun intended) legal marijuana business and a few of the determined, persevering, independent women who see opportunities for themselves and their friends/family members amid the cannabis plants’ verdant green leaves. As it tells their stories, it explores the impact that legalization has had on small businesses as large corporations swoop in on a new market.

Russo and her crew follow six different California women in the wake of the state’s decision to decriminalize marijuana in 2016. There’s Chiah Rodrigues, who grew up working on her family’s hush-hush cannabis farm and now runs it herself with her husband, while also organizing small local pot growers and raising her two sons. Karyn Wagner came west to the Golden State after running restaurants in New York and found her way into distributing marijuana; now she’s looking to put her entrepreneurial talents to profitable use. Felicia Carbajal is a fearless advocate for the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities, standing up for those who’ve been disproportionately affected by pot-related “crimes.” Longtime friends Pearl Moon and Joyce Cenfofanti — aka The Bud Sisters — are local legends in Humboldt County, the heart of California’s cannabis community. And Sue Taylor is a former Catholic school principal who’s now on a mission to open a dispensary in Berkeley.

Each woman faces her own challenges over the course of Russo’s film, from bureaucratic run-arounds to law-enforcement overstepping to wildfires to family drama. And hovering over all of them like a cloud of smoke from a giant joint is the threat of corporate America coming in and taking over everything they’ve fought for for so long. This isn’t a film where everything is sure to turn out great for the little guy — in fact, if anything, it shows exactly how hard it is for the little guy (or gal, in this case!) to keep persisting in the face of discouraging setbacks.

But that persistence is exactly what makes the subjects of Lady Buds so appealing and relatable. By capturing moments both big and small, Russo takes us into their lives in an authentic way, making them our neighbors, our friends, our local small business owners who just need a little bit of grace to see their dreams realized. Whether you’re as big a fan of cannabis as The Bud Sisters or have never inhaled, it’s hard to resist this scrappy film.– Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Marilyn Ferdinand In the good old days of marijuana cultivation in California, all growers had to worry about was getting busted or drug-related violence. Those are real worries, but most people in the illegal cannabis trade managed to avoid both, make a decent living, and live the back-to-the-land kind of life that drew them out of the rat race in the first place. They didn’t know it then, but legalizing recreational cannabis use would destroy their way of life forever. The women growers who are profiled in Chris J. Russo’s informative, infuriating documentary range from so-called “original growers” to children of original growers and entrepreneurs who want to profit from the growing multi-billion-dollar cannabis industry. In every case, their lives and businesses suffer at the hands of Big Ag and corrupt, hostile regulators who think nothing of breaking their promises to mom-and-pop farmers and forcing them to jump through hoops they hope will cause the farmers to pack up and leave—which some of them do. If there was ever any question that capitalism is an utterly amoral system, Lady Buds is definitive proof that it is.

Nell Minow: This is not a movie about cannabis. It is a movie about power, both political and corporate, and the truth of the maxim that you have to be careful what you wish for. The quiet little marijuana-farming hippies who thought their lives would improve when their crops were made legal discovered a whole new set of problems. Big business was just waiting for legalization to set up their own well-financed and highly efficient cannabis farms, with enough money to make sure the politicians were just as efficiently pushing the small producers out. This is a fascinating look at the foreseen and unforeseen consequences of legalization is filled with colorful characters and lessons about what it takes to adapt — it should be part of the curriculum of every college department of political science and business.

Pam Grady: California Proposition 64, passed in 2016, legalized possession of marijuana for adult users, setting the stage for a new kind of gold rush. Lady Buds delivers a fascinating look at this industry on the cusp of radical change primarily from the point of view of female growers and cannabis entrepreneurs. Growers in the Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties worry that well-funded industrial concerns will steamroll over them. Retailers face zoning, permit, and other obstacles thrown in their way by hostile bureaucrats. Cratering prices add further economic pressures. And the state’s penchant for catching fire presents another threat. The documentary provides a vivid snapshot of a moment in time for an industry still emerging into the daylight after spending decades as an illicit business that could “reward” those engaged in it with hard prison time – old-timers in Humboldt recall hiding from law enforcement helicopters and hiding their plants deep in the forest. Ultimately, Lady Buds is a portrait of resilience, of women determined to shape their own destinies growing, selling, or advocating for cannabis.

Jennifer Merin Chris J. Russo’s engaging and informative first feature documentary, Lady Buds, is an enlightening and exasperating tell all about the troubles currently impacting the lives and careers of women who are working in the weed trade in Northern California. The film chronicles the struggles of six independent female cannabis growers and distributors who were once worried about facing criminal charges for their chosen careers, but are now fighting to hold their ground against Big Agro companies that are — with the complicity of local authorities — moving in to take control of the burgeoning medical and recreational market for marijuana. Read full review.

Susan Wloszczyna: I was never a person who enjoyed smoking pot. First, it made me dizzy. Second, it gave me the munchies. Third, it made me fall asleep. But after watching the new documentary Lady Buds, I have a renewed appreciation for what cannabis can do for those who suffer from pain (full disclosure: I take CBD gummies daily for my own aches these days) and also for longtime farmers who benefited financially by harvesting crops over the years in Northern California despite illegalities. Read full review.

Leslie Combemale Lady Buds will definitely make you mad if you believe in equity and fairness, but it won’t surprise you. Often the minute big money gets involved in any industry, small businesses are frozen out. Such is the case for the smaller farmers and suppliers of cannabis, many of whom have been practicing sustainable growing techniques for decades, who have had to fight the moneyed corporations taking over an industry they helped build. Lady Buds focuses on six women, all from marginalized communities, including women of color, queer women, and women over 60. It is their passion about the benefits of cannabis for a huge percentage of the population that keeps them fighting for a level playing field. Just a teeny part of that list includes seniors with chronic illness, those struggling with mental illness or PTSD, and those combating the side effects of chemotherapy. These inspiring women aren’t backing down, and Lady Buds is a testament to their commitment, integrity, and strength.

Loren King Whether or not one is interested in issues surrounding cannabis production, use, or legalization, the women at the heart of Lady Buds are engaging and original enough for viewers to be invested in them. Chris J. Russo’s documentary follows several women of various ages and backgrounds who are in some way involved in growing and distributing cannabis in California where recreational pot became legal in 2016. Many of the women, particularly from the hippie enclave of Humboldt where pot production was commonplace long before 2016, wonder whether they’ll survive the influx of big business and worry about the changes —environmentally, socially, politically — that seem inevitable.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Filmmaker Chris J. Russo’s documentary Lady Buds is an absorbing chronicle of six pioneering women in the cannabis growing industry. The women defy description – they’re of all ages and backgrounds (even among the California indie pot-growing community, there’s a difference between working mother Chia Rodriques, who grew up the daughter of a pot farmer in a 1970s back-to-the-land commune, and the elderly Cheech and Chong vibe of Pearl Moon and Dr. Joyce Centofanti aka “The Bud Sisters.” Felicia Carbajal is a queer Latinx organizer who advocates for equity in the industry; Sue Taylor is trying to start a medicinal dispensary in Oakland geared toward seniors. Then there’s Karyn Wagner, who inherited her cannabis farm (and entrepreneurial know-how) from her late husband. All of them have fascinating and emotional stories, and Russo makes sure to tell them thoughtfully. The empathetic storytelling will elicit compassion, regardless of what audiences may think about the legalization of marijuana.

Cate Marquis: Chris J. Russo’s first feature film Lady Buds focuses of six women who all have some long-running connection to cannabis growing in Northern California, particularly around Humboldt county, as the state finally moves to legalizing marijuana farming. Russo paints appealing, human portraits of all the subjects, ranging from a young woman who grew up on a hippie commune that illegally grew pot and now farms it with her family, to a woman who supplied marijuana to AIDS victims in San Francisco at the height of that epidemic, to the “Bud Sisters,” a pair of college friends who sell a medicinal marijuana-based product. With legalization, hopes are high for these pioneering businesswomen, but the small businesses quickly find themselves the underdogs in a battle against big-money investors. Lady Buds is an insightful look at these small entrepreneurs but their David-versus-Goliath plight goes way beyond this one once-illegal business.


Title: Lady Buds

Directors: Chris J. Russo

Release Date: November 19, 2021

Running Time: 96 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Documentary (Chris J. Russo)

Distribution Company: Gravitas

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).