Code of the West

Code of the West

As seen in CODE OF THE WEST, a film by Rebecca Richman Cohen and Francisco Bello. Picture courtesy Racing Horse Productions. All rights reserved.

Code of the West

Executive Producer:
Original Score:
Consulting Producer:
Additional Camera:
Production Company:

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Code of the West (2013)

Opened: 03/29/2013 Limited

reRun Theater03/29/2013 - 04/04/20137 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated

By filmmakers Rebecca Richman Cohen and OSCAR® and Emmy® nominated Francisco Bello.

A documentary about the failure of federal medical marijuana laws and the human consequences of the War on Drugs.


At a time when the world is rethinking its drug policies large and small, one state rises to the forefront. Once a pioneer in legalizing medical marijuana, the state of Montana may now become the first to repeal its medical marijuana law. Set against the sweeping vistas of the Rockies, the steamy lamplight of marijuana grow houses, and the bustling halls of the State Capitol, CODE OF THE WEST follows the political process of marijuana policy reform -- and the recent federal crackdown on medical marijuana growers across the country. This is the story of what happens when politics fail, emotions run high and communities pay the price.

Director's Statement

This is a film about the legislative process, but it is also the story of how different communities struggle to construct a universe of shared values. Nomos is an ancient Greek word meaning "human law." The term is never uttered in our film, but its meaning underlies much of what our crew documented in Montana. Nomos refers not only to the formal laws that legislators draft as legal code, but also the social norms and unwritten codes of conduct that govern our daily life. CODE OF THE WEST is a film about what happens when there are conflicting codes: when our formal laws conflict with each other, when our social norms conflict with our laws, and when different segments of our society embrace divergent norms.

My team and I have tried to capture the human story behind the legislative process of state-level marijuana policy reform -- a messy, tangled affair that has implications for policy reform in other states and for the democratic process in the nation at large. Though the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I Narcotic (with no accepted medical use), an increasing number of states disagree. Today eighteen states and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana use for people suffering from debilitating medical conditions including cancer, epilepsy, severe nausea, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. But the way in which we regulate a drug that is also widely used by adults and teenagers who don't suffer from these conditions -- and that has become a powerful symbol in a much wider debate about cultural values -- raises the hard questions that drove me to make this film.

As we followed the trajectory of three medical marijuana bills in Montana, we couldn't help but notice another debate taking place in the Montana Capitol. Halfway through the legislative session, the President of the Senate proposed a bill that would memorialize an archetypal, cowboy-era "Code of the West" as the official Montana state code of ethics. But despite the pleasing nostalgia of the idea, the marijuana debate we chronicled revealed to us that a single code of ethics can't begin to reflect the deep divisions at work in Montana's society. And it forced us to wonder, "Who is more true to Montana's pioneering spirit?" Is it those seeking to guard their communities against marijuana billboards that mar the view of the Rockies? Or is it the drug policy reformers seeking to keep medical marijuana legal?

The question, of course, is not whether Montanans -- or any of us -- should live by a common code, but rather which code, or whose code, we should adopt. The code of the pious? The libertarian? The entrepreneur? The local government? The regional tradition? The national law?

If Montana's medical marijuana debate tells us anything, it is this: There are many codes of the West. And the way in which they are reconciled -- or not -- has profound implications for the way we live.

-- Rebecca Richman Cohen, Spring 2012

About the Filmmakers

Rebecca Richman Cohen (Director/Producer/Writer)

Rebecca is an Emmy Award nominated filmmaker and a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School. WAR DON DON, her first film, won the Special Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival and was nominated for two Emmy awards: Outstanding Continuing Coverage Of A News Story (Long Form) and Outstanding Editing. Rebecca has been adjunct faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and American University's Human Rights Institute. She graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies and with a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School, where she now teaches two classes on law and film. In 2010 Rebecca was profiled in Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces in Independent Film as an "up-and-comer poised to shape the next generation of independent film." She is a 2012-2013 Soros Justice Fellow.

Francisco Bello (Producer/Editor/Writer)

Francisco is an OSCAR® and three time Emmy nominee. His editorial work includes SUMMER SUN WINTER MOON (ITVS), NEITHER MEMORY NOR MAGIC (MoMA Documentary Fortnight), BETTY LA FLACA (HBO), and JULIETA Y RAMON (Showtime). He launched Ropa Vieja Films in 2007 with SALIM BABA (HBO, Canal+, EBS), which he shot and produced in Kolkata, India. SALIM BABA has screened in over 100 festivals worldwide including Sundance, Telluride, IDFA, and Tribeca. In 2008 SALIM BABA was Nominated for a Best Short Documentary ACADEMY AWARD®, followed by a News & Documentary Emmy Nomination in 2009. His directorial debut commissioned by HBO Documentary Films was EL ESPIRITU DE LA SALSA, which premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. Francisco produced and edited WAR DON DON, which won the Special Jury prize at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival and the first annual Karen Schmeer Award for Excellence in Documentary Editing. After airing on HBO, WAR DON DON received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Coverage of a News Story and Outstanding Editing. Francisco edited the films OUR NIXON, BEST KEPT SECRET, and is co-directing MU XIN: NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND, all due for release in 2013.

Joshua Z Weinstein (Co-Producer/Director of Photography)

Joshua is a filmmaker whose camerawork has aired on HBO, PBS, and BBC. He was a field director and cinematographer for Morgan Spurlocks' film COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FANS HOPE. He was the Director of Photography for the ITVS/BBC/Sundance Institute film, GIVE UP TOMORROW. Joshua worked on Romana Diaz's Journey film, DON'T STOP BELIEVIN: EVERYMANS JOURNEY and Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stone documentary, SHINE A LIGHT. FLYING ON ONE ENGINE, his feature documentary debut, premiered at SXSW 2008 and was featured at Best of the Fests at IDFA. FLYING ON ONE ENGINE was broadcast in Germany, Sweden, Poland, Estonia, and Israel. The film won the Estonian Peoples Award, the Audience Award at the South Asian International Film Festival, and Best in Scene from the Brooklyn Arts Council. Joshua is an alumnus of the CPB/PBS Producers Academy. Joshua is currently collaborating with Jean Tsien on OFF DUTY a portrait of cab garage in Queens, NY and with Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly the Emmy nominated team behind THE WAY WE GET BY on a new documentary project.

David Menschel (Executive Producer)

David is a lawyer and a director of the Vital Projects Fund, a charitable foundation located in New York City with an interest in human rights and criminal justice reform, including issues like death penalty abolition, drug policy reform, prosecutorial accountability and reform of the prison-industrial complex. Formerly, Menschel was an attorney and the Arthur Liman Fellow at the Innocence Project in New York City and the legal director of the Innocence Project of Florida where he helped to free wrongfully convicted individuals, some of whom had spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. He is the author of Abolition Without Deliverance: The Law of Connecticut Slavery, 1784-1848, published in the Yale Law Journal. He is also the executive producer of Emmy-nominated and Sundance and SXSW award-winning documentary films: THE OATH (2010), a humanizing portrait of a cab-driving Yemeni jihadist and his Guantanamo-imprisoned brother-in-law; and WAR DON DON (2010), an examination of international efforts to try and punish an alleged war criminal in post-conflict Sierra Leone. Before attending law school, Menschel taught American history to high school students. He received a B.A. from Princeton University ('93) and a J.D. from Yale Law School ('02).

Jim Butterworth (Consulting Producer)

Jim Butterworth is the founder and president of Naked Edge Films, where he has served as executive producer for films including The Revisionaries, Gone, Donor Unknown, War Don Don, The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan and Cape Spin. Jim's own film Seoul Train, which he produced, directed and shot, has been translated to more than twenty languages and broadcast on TV globally. In 2007, Seoul Train was bestowed the Alfred I. duPont -- Columbia University Award for excellence in broadcast journalism and investigative reporting, and also was runner-up for the National Journalism Award. Jim also is a successful technology entrepreneur and investor, and an advisor to a number of nonprofits, startup companies and investment funds. He was one of the pioneers in the streaming of audio and video over the Internet, and holds 12 issued U.S. and foreign patents in this field.

Daniel J. Chalfen (Consulting Producer)

Daniel J. Chalfen is a founder of and producer at Naked Edge Films. Daniel's most recent documentaries include "State 194" (for Participant Media, World Premiere TIFF '12); "The Revisionaries," which had it's World Premiere at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award and was picked up for distribution by Kino Lorber; "Code of the West," which had its World Premiere at SXSW in March 2012; and "Pretty Old," executive produced by Sarah Jessica Parker and Joe Berlinger, which had its World Premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in January 2012, where it won the Jury Award for Best Documentary. Daniel's earlier credits include "Cape Spin," which had it's International Premiere at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) and was most recently broadcast on Canada's CBC; "Donor Unknown" (produced with ARTE, More 4 and VPRO), which premiered at the 2010 Sheffield Doc/Fest then went on to screen at IDFA, Tribeca and Silverdocs (the latter two at which it won an Audience Award), and broadcast in the U.S. on the PBS series Independent Lens; "GONE," which premiered at Tribeca in 2011, and was broadcast on Discovery ID in the U.S.; "War Don Don," which premiered at SXSW, where it won a Special Jury Mention, and was broadcast in the U.S. on HBO, and was nominated for two Emmy Awards; and "Budrus," which premiered at Dubai, then screened at Berlin, Tribeca and Silverdocs, among other festivals, each of which where it won an award. Other producing credits include "The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan," executive produced by Danny Glover; "Meeting Resistance," which won the Golden Award at the Al Jazeera International Documentary Festival; "Encounter Point"; "39 Pounds of Love," which was produced with HBO Documentary Films and was short-listed for an Academy Award; and "Pulled from the Rubble," which became an ABC Special. Daniel's non-fiction television series include "Happy France" for ARTE and "Ordinary People," which was broadcast worldwide.

Mike Kasic (Field Producer/Production Sound)

Mike Kasic is an accomplished sound recordist and sound mixer for film and television with extensive experience working in extreme environments (including the Montana State Capital). For over 17 years, Mike has worked in every biome on the planet, capturing nature and sync sound in the most remote of locations, whether in a MIR submarine at the bottom of the ocean, in the vast deserts of Africa, the muddy rivers of the Amazon rainforest, or on top of the world at the North Pole. His credits include substantial work for the BBC, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television, PBS, and WNET Nature. Mike lives in Livingston, Montana just North of Yellowstone National Park, near the Yellowstone River.

Ian Kellett (Field Producer/Additional Camera)

Ian is a filmmaker and director of photography based in Livingston, Montana. He worked on the BBC series "Frozen Planet," "Oceans" and "Planet Earth" and filmed all over the world for National Geographic and Discovery. A couple of career highlights include being the first cameraman to film a new species of primate in the Bolivian jungle, filming Evel Knievel and Richard Hammond for Top Gear, and trying to ride a rodeo bucking horse for all of four and a half seconds before face planting in the mud while making a film for PBS about the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale. In addition to filming CODE OF THE WEST, he has been making a film about American Cowboys in central Asia.