by Greg Carlson
An engrossing portrait that takes viewers deep into the world of marijuana farming in Northern California’s Humboldt County, “Freeland'' rumbles along on the strength of a lovely central performance by Krisha Fairchild as Devi, a one-time hippie and last-woman-standing from the idealistic commune of the title. Fairchild, who played the fictionalized character who shares her name in nephew Trey Edward Shults’s debut feature “Krisha,” has been lauded for her efforts. Most recently, she received the award for Best Actress at the 2021 Fargo Film Festival.
“Freeland” filmmakers and longtime collaborators Kate McLean and Mario Furloni made the short documentary “Pot Country” in 2011, and that piece influences and informs the content of their feature. The writing and directing team (Furloni also serves as the cinematographer of “Freeland”) harnesses both techniques and storytelling sensibilities from their nonfiction experience. The exposition, confidently handled, invites the spectator into a fully-realized world. Devi takes seriously the cultivation of her plants. She employs a small team of young but like-minded workers to harvest the crop. Her relationship with Josh (Frank Mosley) appears at first glance to be rooted in trust.
McLean and Furloni will take the Krisha-Josh connection to fresh and unexpected places. Other pairings may be less pronounced and explosively dramatic, but are equally important. The directors lean heavily on the thematic mileage introduced by Krisha’s ex Ray (John Craven), dialing up the sense of regret and the longing for a different era. “Freeland” builds much of its tension around Krisha’s struggles to adapt to the major legal changes and regulations transforming her industry.
In addition to Mosley and Craven, the other supporting cast members add much depth to “Freeland.” Among those performers, Lily Gladstone deserves special mention. Unforgettable and brilliant in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women,” Gladstone makes an impression here as Mara, another member of Krisha’s small crew. The actor capitalizes on every moment of her time on the screen, leaving one to wonder why she has not been cast more frequently in higher profile projects.
The movie, of course, is a tour de force showcase for Fairchild -- an overnight sensation several decades in the making. Her first theatrical film credit listed in the Internet Movie Database is “Truckstop Cook” in Nancy Savoca’s excellent 1991 “Dogfight,” and she has more than two dozen additional television and movie appearances to her name. Devi is a meaty opportunity. “Freeland” is structured to constantly escalate the problems and increase the tension, and Fairchild takes the audience with her every step of the way. Even when the choices of McLean and Furloni strain credulity, Fairchild never plays a wrong note.
Like so many titles affected by the response to the global pandemic, “Freeland” had to cut a new path to find its viewers. Last year, the movie was scheduled in the Visions section of the canceled 2020 South by Southwest Film Festival -- and its eventual distribution might have looked a bit different. From March 18 to 28, however, audiences can access “Freeland” as part of the virtual 2021 Fargo Film Festival. Tickets are on sale now.
All 2021 FFF tickets are available at https://watch.eventive.org/fff2021
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