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(The 2020 SXSW Film Festival was sadly cancelled. Yet Hammer to Nail is still reviewing films that were slated to premiere at the fest! We present, #LostFilmsofSXSW. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

Lonely are those idealists whose time has passed. Lost in memory, they yearn for the perfect youth that probably never was, yet burns brightly in the mind like an evergreen dream. Forever hopeful, they are caught unawares by the change of tides, struggling to adapt and swim against a current they cannot see. The future is no longer so far away, but a cold, rapidly developing child of the fading present.

Such is the state of Devi, protagonist of Freeland, the elegiac narrative-feature debut of directors Mario Furloni and Kate McLean. A sixtyish marijuana farmer, she has just produced her best batch yet, but is suddenly unable to find a distributor when law enforcement makes moves to shut her down. Though pot may now be legal to grow, sell and smoke in California, where the film takes place, there are rules to follow, and since Devi has heretofore resisted getting a permit to legitimize her operation, she now suffers for that unfortunate recalcitrance. It’s too late to do it at this point, given the significant expense. Hippies don’t always age well, it seems.

Perhaps she should have done as did her neighbors, who have taken off on an extended vacation, leaving their entrepreneurial son in charge of the new situation. He’s made quite a few changes, as we briefly see, and though nice enough to Devi, is less than willing to offer help. After all, he and others have transitioned, why can’t she? Business is business; now get on with it.

Unfortunately, Devi still has to pay the seasonal workers she’s hired, and they grow restless, slowly turning against her after a protracted idyll of near-utopian bonhomie. How quickly friendships fade when money is on the line…In an interesting twist, though Devi seethes at authority and bureaucracy, she finds herself occupying that very position vis-à-vis her young employees, natural heirs to all that she once was. For the first time in her life, she’s “the man,” at least to them. It’s a bad fit.

Beautifully photographed by Furloni, doubling as cinematographer, Freeland showcases the breathtaking redwood forests, mountains and mists of northern California’s Humboldt County, a majestic backdrop for this fall from grace. While Devi reminisces about her glory days, evoked through brief, artfully shot, archival-like  flashbacks, the landscape acts like a silent, eternal witness to her troubles. Even as Devi revisits the old, titular commune nearby, site of happier times, she can’t quite recapture former magic. At least it’s a gorgeous place to die, should it come to that.

Krisha Fairchild (Krisha) delivers a powerful central performance, making us feel profound sympathy for a character who is far from perfect. Lily Gladstone (Certain Women) and Frank Mosley (The Ghost Who Walks), as two of the twentysomething laborers, are equally fine, expertly handling that moment when paradise begins to sour. Together, they make of Freeland a moving, meditative experience. As much as this writer personally dislikes almost everything about cannabis, that is no small praise.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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