BIFF20 REVIEW: Freeland [2020]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 80 minutes
    Release Date: 2020 (USA)
    Studio: Big Tangent
    Director(s): Mario Furloni & Kate McLean
    Writer(s): Mario Furloni & Kate McLean

I have my own system.

Adapt or die: it’s the capitalist way. And for a time it actually worked. Those with the ingenuity to improve an industry found themselves rising to the top with technological advances that others would have to adopt in order to remain competitive. An even playing field would be found, someone new would take that next step forward, and the rest would once again adjust. At a certain point in the past half-century or so, however, those improvements began coming at an accelerated pace. They’ve become so fast that laws haven’t had a chance to catch-up. Monopolies formed, politicians took cuts while providing tax break incentives, and soon the “little guys” were gone. “Adapt or die” suddenly evolved into just “Die” within a system intentionally built to kill.

No industry has perhaps been affected more than farming. With massive businesses thriving off independents slaving away for pennies because they’d earn even less alone, it’s become a veritable horror show. That which worked stopped overnight and foreclosures followed closely behind. And I’m talking about agricultural staples like chicken farming—legal categories gobbled up by Wall Street money to drive down prices and thus compensation in turn. So you know that people are literally salivating about America’s recent movement to legalize marijuana. They’re hedging bets, setting up high-tech infrastructure, and biding time before getting the green light to steal a market from those who’ve spent decades building it. The moment those veterans are allowed to come into the light is the moment they’re instantly surpassed by profiteering opportunists.

This is the backdrop of Mario Furloni and Kate McLean‘s Freeland. While big business wrestled away the margins for themselves by expanding into technological offshoots selling million-dollar machinery that transported pot harvesting onto an assembly line, some of the more successful independent growers were able to invest in themselves to join the parade. Others like Devi (Krisha Fairchild), however, knew they’d be unable to pay employees after throwing money at the government to adhere to new laws caring more about their cut than providing a safe and fair arena. So they remained off-grid. They maintained their relationships with distributors willing to continue moving undocumented product and hoped to avoid the inevitable crackdown. Every moment they waited, the more doors closed. And those still open jacked up their bills.

In one week Devi went from smiling workers collecting wages (Frank Mosley‘s Josh, Lily Gladstone‘s Mara, and Cameron James Matthews‘ Casey) to the implementation of a controversial new payment system shifting weekly envelopes into one lump seasonal sum. In one week Devi’s entire enterprise started to crumble down upon her head because of a piece of paper threatening property seizure if she didn’t pay the exorbitant fines meant to scare her into forking over exorbitant permit fees for a chance at legalization instead. Because the abatement notice was public information, her name was soon printed in the paper for all to see. That’s when her phone stopped ringing. Devi became a pariah with thousands of dollars of product left unsold. The system she fought so hard had won.

What follows is the hostile takeover by capitalism of a way of life she’d embraced and prospered under since she was a young woman living on a commune not far from where she eventually bought land and set-up shop. Every connection and every friend she used to laugh and smoke with during good times turned sullen, quiet, and avoidant because that happiness had always been contingent on cash whether or not it was explicitly stated in the fine print or not. Josh, Mara, and Casey may possess similar values and philosophies as Devi, but neither of those abstracts pay their expenses. The first thing to go is the benefit of the doubt. The second is trust. And last, but surely not least, is respect. We’re nothing without those.

It’s therefore an emotionally and spiritually painful demise that unfolds on-screen with Fairchild seemingly moving in slomotion as every attempt to right the ship drags her further down. She doesn’t help herself by pushing those willing to lend a hand away as an independent woman uninterested in partnerships, but that’s no excuse for the name-calling occurring behind her back. Maybe the government will accept her application and everything will be fine. Maybe she’ll find someone willing to take what everyone is saying is the best strand she’s ever grown off her hands. Or maybe adaptation is simply too far-gone as death creeps in along the fringes. The latter comes with additional complexities too since such a fall is rarely graceful even without the paranoia intrinsic to weed consumption.

Freeland becomes an intriguing look at a culture for which we’re familiar impacting an industry of which many are not. It’s depressing to witness authentic proof that our nation’s wealth disparity and career politicians have made it so no enterprise is left untouched by the machine that is greed. You can work your whole life building your slice of the American Dream only to have it get swept up by an unjust system valuing conglomerates more than citizens. You can’t therefore be surprised when Devi unravels completely in response to her employees’ growing resentment and the disappearance of her lifelines. That’s what happens when you’re backed into a corner with nowhere to turn. That’s what happens when your livelihood is appropriated without warning as you sleep.

[1] Krisha Fairchild in Freeland (2020)
[2] Lily Gladstone in Freeland (2020)
[3] Krisha Fairchild in Freeland (2020)

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