on his new documentary, Green Light
Green Light explores the exceptional lengths two mavericks are willing to go to, to improve – and in some cases, save – the lives of those with nowhere else to turn. They risk their freedom by supplying black market medicinal cannabis to thousands suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses.
We sat down with it's director, Ned Donohoe, to talk about the story, how he approached his first feature length doco, and what makes these two renegades so incredible.
Jacob: Can you tell us a little bit about Green Light?
Ned: Green Light tells the story of two men, Nick and Luke, who supply black market medicinal cannabis to thousands of sick and dying people. The reason they do this is that, in my opinion, it is a symptom of a problem; and that problem is a government that doesn’t have policy in place that allows access to this medicine. So they’re essentially running around mopping up all the mess that the Australian government has created by not taking this legislation seriously. The documentary follows their day-to-day running of the business operations as well as all the miracle patient stories we captured along the way.
Jacob: How did you come to be involved with Nick and Luke, the subjects of the film?
Ned: I used to run an online documentary platform for a few years called Pilgrim Media, and during that time one of the films we produced was called The Pot Doctor. That told the story of a deregistered doctor who supplied medicinal cannabis to patients suffering from cancer and other diseases, but on a much smaller scale. We told that story and it received over 50,000 views online and even received a bit of press attention. Nick found the story online and really enjoyed it, and he got in touch with me around the end of 2015. We were back and forth for a few years and it wasn’t until around the end of 2017, he called me again - actually about 30 seconds before I was going to call him! He said “look, I think I’m ready”. After that phone call I knew that it was meant to be, so that’s how it sort of happened and I started to cut my teeth learning about the benefits of medicinal cannabis and the dog breakfast situation that Australia finds itself in.
Jacob: So it wasn’t an issue that you were across before getting into the documentary?
Ned: Obviously I had produced that short film beforehand, but I only had a basic knowledge of it. I understood the regulatory framework that we were in and the fact that lots of people were struggling to get access to these products, I was very aware of that. But definitely making this film made me feel, I guess, the human side of it much more, and because it’s a feature film there is a bit more time for more patient stories as well, and we can focus more on the anxiety they go through each day running a clandestine start-up operation.
Jacob: Did you approach it as a feature length documentary from the start? Or was it something that naturally evolved into a feature length piece from something planned to be much shorter?
Ned: I did initially at the start think, I’m going to make another short film. But then after exploring the wealth of the patient stories available, as well as their colourful backgrounds, I felt more justified in making a feature. It was only through that pre-interview stage prior to filming that I realised that this is definitely worthy of 50 minutes plus of film.
Jacob: It’s interesting that you went and lived with Nick and Luke for a week and got to know their patients - was there anything else interesting in that pre-production process that was outside the norm?
Ned: The only thing that was outside of the norm was how generous Nick and Luke were with their time and the access they gave me to everything they did. The main thing for me as a filmmaker is that I’m very aware, from my producing background, of the impacts of filming on someone, so it is hard for me to take that hat off. A big part of it was knowing we didn’t have a crazy big budget so we couldn’t stay and live with them for a year - we didn’t really have the time, or the money, or even the resources. So I lived with them for a week to capture all the things they do that are crucial to the story, and one of the key things were their phone calls, which form an integral part of the documentary.
After that week, I knew exactly what we needed to capture with a bit of buffer in the shooting schedule for something serendipitous happening, and that allowed me and my producer to go into roughly 25 days of filming with a lot of intention.
Jacob: The documentary focuses on quite a number of different patients’ stories. Was any one of those particularly affecting to you?
Ned: I would say the patient affectionately known as Mum. There is no hierarchy in emotion, but this one was quiet complex, and was quite heartbreaking and harrowing. Essentially she was wheelchair-bound and was normally a very self-reliant person, so it was very humiliating for her and she was on a cocktail of painkillers to treat the pain. When she went off them, she went through weeks and weeks of intense withdrawal symptoms; imagine the baby scene in Trainspotting - it was almost worse than that. Once she got over that, she got on medicinal cannabis and got rid of all the opioids and was able to get out of her wheelchair and get work. Seeing the gratitude she had towards Nick and seeing his reaction to that - normally he is quite strong and guarded - was a really powerful moment in the film for me.
Jacob: How worried are you about Nick and Luke and the potential for persecution following the release of the documentary?
Ned: I’ve become quite close to them and I consider them close friends, so I would hate to see something like that happen. It has been pretty much 80% of the conversation between myself and them the whole time. I guess managing their emotions - one day they couldn’t be more excited in exposing these patient stories and really inspired to get the word out, and then the next day they’re sort of just beside themselves in regards to these feelings of “oh crap what if this goes to shit” - it’s definitely been one of the biggest jobs on this film has been sort of managing the emotional rollercoaster for them. What makes me sleep at night is that they did approach me and that we can always go back to the why, every time we have one of these emotional moments. The word needs to get out and we need to show the work that they are doing so that more people can access it.