Chris J. Russo - Director / Producer / Writer
Chris J. Russo’s award-winning short films have screened all over the world, including the Sundance Film Festival, and have been broadcast on Showtime, PBS, IFC, LOGO and NETFLIX. She is a 2018 fellow of the Sundance Institute/Women In Film Financing Intensive with Lady Buds, and is also a fellow of Film Independent’s Director and Screenwriters Labs, with her project, Directed By Dorothy Arzner. Notable short film credits include, A Woman Reported, about the moments before a hate crime occurs; Size ‘em Up , a coming of age story; Straight Down The Aisle: Confessions of Lesbian Bridesmaids, winner of the Outfest Best Short Documentary Award for its poignant view on marriage non-equality (pre-Prop 8); and numerous music videos.
After receiving two art degrees in Photography — a BFA from the University of Buffalo and MFA from the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY — Russo moved to Hollywood and worked for Kodak for 15 years and as a Post Production Supervisor on over 15 feature films. Russo is an exhibited fine art photographer, with recent group shows in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. She has dedicated the last four years to producing and directing Lady Buds, her first feature film.
Shauna Harden - Executive Producer
Shauna Harden is a passionate advocate of equity for women, minorities, and craft farmers who are champions of the wellness aspects of the plant. Via her family office in San Francisco, California, Shauna supports hospitality and wellness businesses, non-profits, and passionate individuals driving positive change in the world.
Michael J. Katz - Producer
Michael Katz has had a 20 year career in the entertainment, marketing and branding industries producing content for some of the most recognizable brands in the world, including Apple, the NFL, Hewlett Packard, Tylenol and many others. Katz lives in Mendocino, CA and is
a member of the Producers Guild of America.
Making The Film
When adult-use cannabis legalization was on the horizon in California, I knew we were about to witness a massive economic and societal transformation that comes with the birth of an industry, especially living in the state that’s the 5th largest economy in the world. With all the news surrounding this landmark moment, I was struck by two things — the number of women entrepreneurs who were speaking up in the cannabis industry seemed like more than any other market I’ve ever seen. I had the impression cannabis was always a “bro” culture, so when I noticed women owning the space, I was intrigued and quite frankly surprised. Secondly, it was apparent that big business was angling to pounce on a cottage industry that had been focused on compassionate care since 1996, when medicinal cannabis was made legal in the state. Newly-written regulations favored deep-pocketed corporations and were about to threaten the livelihoods of small farmers who had been supporting a robust underground economy in rural towns in Northern California for decades. The writing was on the wall that things were about to change in a big way.
I was introduced to cannabis as medicine at an early age when a family member used it during treatment for breast cancer in the 1990s. When I was a teenager, I identified cannabis with counterculture, with hippies and rock and roll and later in life, with creativity. And now—seeing this plant and all it has stood for, co-opted by capitalist greed and the likes of people such as John Boehner (who used to put people in jail for cannabis crimes) — something felt off.
As I began my research for the documentary, I read a statistic that 36% of leadership roles in the cannabis industry were held by women, a percentage unprecedented in any other emerging market in the US. I interviewed over 100 women who were operating in some part of the cannabis industry, and visited numerous off-grid homesteads and farms in Northern California. What I found was a community of courageous women, many of whom had risked their freedom to cultivate the plant, and realized that women had been at the center of this movement for decades. I gained the trust from an “outlaw” community to tell their stories that I knew were soon to disappear.
Part of the heritage story of cannabis in California is the little-known history of LGBTQ activism that birthed the medical marijuana movement during the AIDS crisis in the 1990s, which laid the groundwork for what legalization is today. I felt I had stumbled upon a really important piece of history that was getting lost in the narrative of legalization. This important finding, along with hearing cannabis farmers speak about going legal as “coming out of the shadows” after living a double life for decades, mirrored my personal experience of “coming out of the closet.” As a queer-identified filmmaker, I understand what it means to be an outlier, and I relate to the renegade spirit of the women who risk their freedom for something they passionately believe in.
After learning so much about the history of the legacy cannabis culture in California, I was compelled to document this huge transformational moment to honor the shoulders the new industry stands on, and highlight the perplexing irony of unbridled capitalism overtaking a grass-roots, counterculture movement.
The films I make have always been informed by my experience living as an outsider, as a woman, as a lesbian who’s had to fight for her own rights and visibility in our society. I felt a personal connection and imperative to tell the story of “Lady Buds,” and it made sense to frame it from a woman’s point of view to provide a contrast to the male-dominated and stoner stereotypes perpetuated by the media. I wanted to paint a picture of powerful, courageous, and passionate women like we’ve never seen before, as the superheroes they seemed to be, to inspire others to take risks and reach for their dreams. It all felt inherently organic to the fact that, at the heart of it all, cannabis—as we cultivate it—is a female plant.
- Chris J. Russo, Director