Hempsters Documentary Compellingly Explores A Movement


Graphic: Desert Star Weekly

​Going into the documentary Hempsters: Plant The Seed, I was already aware of many of the facts surrounding the hemp plant and its many uses to humanity for food, fiber, pharma and fuel.

But as a good docu tends to do, this film doesn’t just engage your intellect; it touches your heart, too, and that emotional impact took me somewhat by surprise.

The lively documentary, directed by Michael Henning and produced by Diana Oliver, explores the reasons why the United States is the only developed country on Earth that bans the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Due to its relation to marijuana, it is illegal under federal law to grow hemp in the U.S. Hemp is considered a drug under the Controlled Substances Act even though it contains minimal levels — less than one percent — of marijuana’s chief psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

As our society continues its insane practice of consuming 30 percent more than the planet can regenerate, industrial hemp has proven to be a viable and cost-effective crop that can reduce our reliance on some of the planet’s most precious resources — and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Photo: Cinema Libre Studio

​Any product that can be made from petroleum can also be produced from hemp. Hemp seed oil can be refined into a renewable fuel and lubricant. Henry Ford experimented with hemp seed and other “biomass” fuels well into the 1930s. In 1941, Ford manufactured a car that ran on hemp oil, hemp gasoline, and hemp tires — and even the body was 50 percent agricultural hemp.
“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?” Ford asked.
Hempsters follows seven activists and their allies as they fight to legalize industrial hemp in the United States. Hemp is grown and used in more than 30 countries and is widely known to have numerous environmental benefits such as more efficient use of energy, forest conservation, and soil redemption. Not only does hemp not need pesticides to grow; it actually leaches toxins out of the ground. 
Whether replacing paper or lumber, the fibrous stalk of the hemp plant provides a better alternative. In fact, until the mid-1800s, industrial hemp was the most common source for paper stock.

Photo: Cinema Libre Studio

​Featured in the film is award-winning actor and well-known hemp and environmental activist Woody Harrelson, who challenged Kentucky state law when he planted four feral hemp seeds in 1996. His subsequent trial and acquittal brought the hemp issue to the forefront of mainstream media more than a decade ago, but the fight continues on.
Harrelson joins traveling hemp activist Craig Lee and a number of featured old-school Kentucky tobacco farmers including Andrew and Jake Graves who just want to grow the multi-purpose crop as a way to save their family farms.
Viewers get to meet Alex White Plume, leader of the Lakota family clan, and the first family to plant industrial hemp on American soil since the 1950s. Plume makes a startling case that his right to grow hemp is a sovereignty issue.
Julia Butterfly Hill, who gained fame as she went to extreme lengths to protest the pulping of old-growth forests by living for more than two years at the top of a 1,000-year-old redwood tree in Northern California, shares her belief that hemp is the solution to cutting down trees for paper.
The iconic Gatewood Galbraith, independent candidate for governor of Kentucky, attempts to bring the public to its senses over this issue in his own inimitable Southern politician style.

Photo: Cinema Libre Studios

​A fast-paced ride with a sizzling soundtrack, Hempsters puts hemp at the heart of just about every grassroots issue in America today. Featured players include country stars Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. More than a political study of cannabis, the documentary is a rousing portrait of some of our country’s most spirited and sensible free-thinkers.
Hempsters is the feature-length directorial debut for Henning, who brings a wealth of experience to the film, having worked in the industry since 1978 with artists such as Ron Howard, Mike Nichols, Bruce Beresford, Oliver Stone, and many others.

Photo: Cinema Libre Studios
The film was a longtime labor of love for producer Diana Oliver

​The film was a longtime labor of love for producer Diana Oliver, who came to Henning with the idea after Harrelson had planted the infamous four seeds. They began shooting footage for the documentary in 1997.
The film won the “Best Work In Progress” Award at the 2001 Deep Ellum Film Festival in Dallas.
This is a thought-provoking, compelling and emotionally moving documentary that will not only encourage all of us to take action, but also help move us one step closer to a more sustainable culture.
Hempsters is available on DVD. You can order a copy at cinemalibrestudio.com or add it to your Netflix queue. It is also available both digitally and as a DVD in outlets such as Family Video Stores, Amazon, Hulu, and iTunes as well as Blockbuster in Canada.
“We the filmmakers are simply messengers; we hope that you will enjoy our story and be informed and inspired to fight for this little plant called ‘industrial hemp’ and what it can do to help save us, the planet and our economy,” said director Michael Henning and producer Diana Oliver.