Ricki Lake is excited to bring the documentary Weed The People, which the former talk show host executive-produced, to the Valley this week. Scottsdale is home to the parents of her late former husband Christian Evans, who tragically took his own life in February 2017.
“This movie is very near and dear to my heart because it’s my husband’s legacy,” Lake says. “My talk show was what it was back in the day. I’m super-proud of it and glad I had that platform for as long as I did, but I prefer putting out these smaller personal projects that really help change the system and are making things better.”
The couple divorced in 2015, but they remained close until Evans’ death (Lake’s current partner also has roots in Phoenix). Evans’ research on the CBD compound found in cannabis, which has been used in some cancer patients to treat tumors, helped inspire the film about parents who use medical marijuana to treat their children’s cancer. In addition to getting together with Evans’ parents during her visit, the former talk show host is presenting her latest project and participating in a post-film discussion with Mara Gordon, one of the subjects of the film, at FilmBar on Thursday, January 24.
Lake still makes the occasional appearance in front of the camera, recently acting in an episode of The CW comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (She says she told creator Rachel Bloom that she was willing to “mop the floor of the set” to be a part of it). These days, the Hairspray star is more active behind the scenes, working with director Abby Epstein to explore topics that spark their curiosity. The duo began their partnership with The Business of Being Born, which explored the debate between home and hospital births. Many of the issues the 2008 film raised have reshaped how hospitals care for expectant mothers.
“The work I’ve done with Abby is the most fulfilling I’ve done to date,” Lake says.
Lake phoned Phoenix New Times to talk about how her latest film is already being used as a tool to help researchers and is influencing legislation in the United States. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
New Times: Is there anything you learned from your work in front of the camera that helped you with producing your documentaries?
Ricki Lake: I’ve done acting roles, but most people probably know me from being in their living room twice a day for 11 years just being myself. With documentaries, you are dealing with real people, characters, and stories. One of the things that helped in putting out these provocative documentaries about ballsy topics is having had a mainstream show where people really got a sense that they knew me and trusted me. I think it helped people be open to them.
In The Business of Being Born, you filmed your second child’s birth.
Please know that I never meant to show that to anybody. At the time, I wanted to document that for myself. When my child turns 18, which will be in June of this year, I’d love to show him how he was born. It was outside of the norm at the time and it still is. It ended up being pretty powerful footage.
My wife just gave birth to our second child, so I can see how the topics that film raises have influenced how doctors and hospitals treat expectant mothers.
People say it's revolutionary. Abby and I never thought it would have this effect. It was a very personal project. I funded it myself with $450,000. I actually never recouped all of it. I was curious about why people didn’t seem to really care about the process of giving birth. To me, it was a huge opportunity that was being missed. It’s been thrilling that we were able to make this little movie that has impacted real change in hospitals because the consumer has demanded it.
But still, our maternal death rate is terrible, particularly with women of color. Our infant mortality rate is appalling considering we are the richest country in the world. Our numbers need to change, but I think our movie has made a big impact on educating people about their options. Every film I make comes from a place of informed choice. It’s not about telling people what to do.
The cannabis debate in Weed The People comes from that place. It’s about parents having access to a medicine that has been vilified and taken away for no good reason.
Since you’ve been touring Weed The People, have you been meeting other families who are in situations similar to the ones depicted in the film?
There have been so many cases of children being taken away from their parents for putting them on the oil. We brought the movie to Parliament in the United Kingdom over the summer because there was a famous case involving an epileptic child who had his medicine taken away when going through Heathrow. He went from zero to 100 seizures a day. It was massive. We brought the film to Oklahoma City to the deadCenter Film Festival two weeks before they passed the medicinal cannabis referendum in that state. They give some of the credit to our film.
It’s an exciting time and I do think our movie is a real tool. UCLA is doing a cannabis-research initiative and the movie helps with their fundraising. They can’t get federal funding for it because it is a Schedule I drug, so they have to find donors. When they see children on the oil and how it alleviates their suffering and tumor shrinkage, it’s remarkable. It’s a travesty more people don’t know what this plant can do.
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Since there hasn’t been much research on the positive effects of medical marijuana, there isn’t a lot of data to rely on. Has anyone used that to discredit the film?
We’re not making a scientific claim. It’s anecdotal. These are children we followed for five and a half years. The results are what they are. I don’t want to give away the film, but some children did really well and there is one that didn’t. It’s not an exact science. What works for one child doesn’t [always] work for another.
The point is to see these families and what they go through. We’re not trying to make some statement that it cures cancer. We don’t use “cure” at all. It can be helpful, but the jury is out on how helpful it is.
Weed The People started out as a passion project of your late husband. How does it feel to see it through to the end?
It’s rewarding, but bittersweet because he’s not here. This is an extraordinary man who struggled with being bipolar, having chronic pain, and [low] self-esteem. He was my favorite person, but so many things were challenging for him. One of those things was having a sense of purpose of why he was here. Posthumously, it was very clear that this movie was his purpose. He is one of the reasons why the children in this film are thriving today, because this movie would not have happened without him. We dedicate the movie to him. I wish he had lived to see it.
Weed The People. 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, January 24, at FilmBar, 815 North Second Street; 602-595-9187; thefilmbarphx.com. Tickets are $10.