A long-time believer in the positive power of pot, Ezra Soiferman wasn’t one to let the grass grow under his feet when he learned that Canada’s marijuana industry was gearing up for full legalization. The Montreal-based filmmaker and photographer seized the opportunity to create a job perfectly suited to him: the first-ever artist-in-residence at a cannabis company.
Since June 2016, Soiferman has communed with the plants and taken close-up pictures of them — “macrojuana” shots, a term he coined himself. He’s also traveled wherever he wanted, taking photos of whatever interested him — all on the dime of Tweed, a multi-billion dollar Canadian cannabis brand based in Smiths Falls, Ontario.
The idea for the artist-in-residence position occurred to Soiferman, 45, when he visited the Tweed factory in 2015 while making a feature-length documentary about medical edibles. The film, “Grass Fed,” followed comedian Mike Paterson as he tried doctor-prescribed marijuana to alleviate terrible back pain several months before his scheduled wedding.
The sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes has been legal in Canada since 2001. Cannabis remains a controlled substance and is illegal for recreational use. However, this will likely change, as the Trudeau government introduced legislation in April that would decriminalize the recreational sale and use of pot by the middle of 2018.
“A week before the film’s release on the CBC documentary channel, I came up with the idea for the artist-in-residence position,” Soiferman told The Times of Israel.
He waited until the film aired and he got positive feedback on it from the company before pitching his proposal to Tweed president Mark Zekulin.
The company gave it a thumbs-up, and following six months of working out the residency’s details, Soiferman made it his main gig for 2016-2017. Soiferman is expected to produce certain deliverables, including a specific number of signed and framed photos and videos (as he calls them, music “photeos,” because they are music videos made from still photographs) — but other than that he has carte blanche.
“The creative control is totally mine. Tweed is not dictating anything in terms of content. Everything is very loose and amorphous. My role is simply to be an artist. It’s very freeing,” Soiferman said.
Zekulin told The Times of Israel he was pleased with Soiferman’s output.
“His art has become a part of our company. When you walk through the doors of our building there’s a running screen of his photo work, and he’s all over our social media feeds. People have gotten to know him through this project,” Zekulin said.
Soiferman has made many films, some with specifically Jewish or Jewish-related subjects. “Posthumous Pickle Party” was a quest to find the secret recipe for the late Simcha Leibovich’s homemade pickles upon the closing of his small but important Montreal landmark, Simcha’s Grocery. “Dockside to Bedside: 100 Years of Herzl,” told the story of the 100-year history of the Herzl Family Practice Centre at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital.
“Grass Fed” was not Soiferman’s first foray into cannabis-centric filmmaking. An 18-minute short fictional film he made with Marc Ostrick in 1993 while still a student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts was about pot. Titled, “Pressure Drop,” it was the story of a Jewish grandfather with glaucoma who used medical marijuana to lower the pressure in his eyes.
Soiferman’s own grandfather had gone blind from glaucoma, and he had wanted to artistically explore a possible alternative outcome had cannabis been legal.
“It turns out it was the first film — and certainly the first comedy — on medical marijuana. It did really well and played at around 25 film festivals,” Soiferman said.
‘We are in the thick of the ‘cannabis big bang’
Soiferman’s passion for pot is palpable. He considers cannabis a wonder plant with many and varied uses that can only benefit people’s everyday life. He eats a hemp-based diet, and his wardrobe consists entirely of clothing made from hemp fabrics (hemp is the fiber made from the cannabis plant). He also mentioned the merits of building furniture and dwellings out of hemp.
“The way I see it, we are in the thick of the ‘cannabis big bang.’ The whole industry is forming around us right now and it’s forming fast. Incredibly fast. The genie’s out of the bottle with this multi-billion dollar sector and there’s likely little anyone can do to get the genie back in. Science has now proven the merits of all that cannabis — both marijuana and hemp — can offer humankind, and thanks to the free flow of information on the internet and the hard work of a long line of activists and researchers, there’s no turning the clock back,” Soiferman said.
Soiferman had a hunch that Tweed, which has a fun-loving image and a partnership with rapper Snoop Dogg, would be receptive to the artist-in-residence concept. But there are some 40 other licensed marijuana producers in Canada.
“From the moment I conceived of this residency, I’d hoped that it would be a catalyst for other artists of all kinds to propose their own residencies to companies they believed in,” Soiferman said.
“And I also hoped that companies would reach out to artists they believed in to get behind them and create residencies. I feel these kinds of synergistic partnerships could go a long way towards brightening up our world,” he said.