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'Join the Club' review: Uniting compassion, cannabis, and change

'Join the Club'

"Join the Club," presented with verve and vigor at BFI Flare, emerges not just as a documentary but as a pivotal exploration of resistance, healing, and legislative evolution. Directed by Kip Andersen and Chris O'Connell, with Carter Feuerhelm serving as both producer and editor, this film uncovers the deeply intertwined narratives of the AIDS crisis, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and the path toward marijuana legislation in America. Through the story of Dennis Peron, a figure both controversial and heroic, the documentary navigates the complexities of activism, loss, and legal battles in a time of acute crisis.

Chris O'Connell, in a revealing interview, shares the genesis and journey of "Join the Club." It was the untold saga of Dennis Peron and the Cannabis Buyer’s Club that sparked the creation of this documentary. O'Connell and his team aimed to shed light on a crucial yet overlooked chapter in the history of marijuana legalization, emphasizing the human elements of love, loss, and solidarity over the mere legalistic strides.

The documentary's engaging narrative and aesthetic choices, including unique archival footage and thoughtfully designed animations, are credited to the collaborative efforts of O'Connell and Feuerhelm. Their approach seeks not only to captivate but to provoke dialogue on the contentious issue of marijuana legalization. The extensive research undertaken by the team unfolded over years, revealing the depth of the collective struggle and the personal stories of those who led the charge.

The film's premiere at the London Film Festival marked a turning point, engaging audiences in reflective discussions and highlighting its international appeal. O'Connell expressed pride in the reception, emphasizing the film's role in fostering a broader understanding and sparking conversations around drug policy reform.

Feuerhelm's contribution as both producer and editor is pivotal, blending narrative threads with historical context to create a documentary that is informative, compelling, and deeply human. His expertise in storytelling is evident in the film's pace and structure, ensuring that viewers are not just observers but participants in a shared journey of awareness and advocacy.

"Join the Club" seeks to do more than narrate history; it aims to influence the present and future policy, advocating for a compassionate approach to marijuana legislation. By juxtaposing the punitive past with a vision of a more just and empathetic approach to drug policy, O'Connell, Andersen, and Feuerhelm invite viewers to reconsider societal norms and advocate for change.

As a testament to the power of community, activism, and the enduring spirit of Dennis Peron, "Join the Club" is a significant documentary that transcends its subject matter to touch upon universal themes of justice, care, and the human capacity for resilience. In doing so, it underscores the invaluable contributions of its creators and subjects alike, making it an essential viewing for anyone interested in the crossroads of health, rights, and societal transformation.

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