Ezra Soiferman's longstanding fascination with cannabis has translated into a unique role within the industry as the first artist-in-residence at Tweed, Canada's largest medical marijuana producer.
The Montreal-based documentary filmmaker and photographer co-directed Pressure Drop, his first film about cannabis in 1993, sparking his career-long interest in documenting the plant and its culture.
Soiferman was introduced to Tweed while filming a scene for the CBC documentary Grass Fed, which followed comedian Mike Paterson's journey in using edible cannabis as medicine.
“That film followed Mike as he learned how edibles worked and if it would work for his sciatica,” Soiferman says. “He got a prescription, then we went to Tweed to visit the facility to see how his medical cannabis is grown.”
While filming the documentary, Soiferman became fascinated with Tweed's story of turning a former Hersey Chocolate factory into a marijuana production facility in Smith Falls, Ontario.
“A week before the film was released on the CBC Documentary Channel in late 2015, I had this idea, this brainwave, that a cannabis company should have an artist-in-residence,” Soiferman says.
He assembled a portfolio of his work, as well as a business plan, to pitch the residency idea to the medical marijuana producer.
“I got it all ready, but I didn't send it,” he says.
After Grass Fed aired, Soiferman received an email from Tweed president Mark Zekulin, thanking him for including the company in the film.
“I took that as a sign they were open to new ideas,” he says. “The next morning, I sent off this proposal. A week later, I followed up and it turns out he loved the idea.”
In August 2016, Soiferman was named Tweed's artist-in-residence, a photography-based position mandated to “bring art to cannabis and cannabis to art,” while profiling the emerging industry.
“One of the things I'm seeing about cannabis now is the industry itself is expanding in a way that is artistic. It's unpredictable, it's colorful, it's beautiful,” Soiferman says. “The flowering of the cannabis industry is a work of art unto itself.”
Although cannabis and art have a storied connection, the residency is likely the first of its kind in the global cannabis industry, says Jordan Sinclair, Tweed's director of communications and media.
“We try to do things that are a little outside of the scope of just cannabis,” Sinclair said.
He added Soiferman's work helps illustrate Tweed's support of the arts, as well as engage with a number of communities through his photography.
“He’s done an amazing job of getting out there and sharing his art. Anytime he’s doing that, there's a little bit of a tieback to Tweed,” Sinclair says. “For us, it comes with a little bit of thanks and a little bit of visibility.”
Photo by Ezra Soiferman
Soiferman added Tweed's announcement of the residency took the cannabis industry by surprise.
“It came out of left field,” he says. “Tweed has prided itself on being a company of firsts. It excited them to try something that's unorthodox and make people think in a different way about cannabis.”
In the first 10 months on the job, Soiferman travelled to more than 15 communities around the world to document their cannabis connection, including Amsterdam, Denver, Colorado, and Kingston, Jamaica.
“I will have managed to get to three of the world’s cannabis meccas during this residency,” Soiferman says.
When working out the details of the new role at Tweed, Soiferman said the company ensured his work wouldn’t be restricted to solely documenting cannabis.
“As much as I love taking photos of hemp fields, medical marijuana plants, trichomes, and buds, my interests in photography are pretty broad,” he said. “In Jamaica, I was photographing ganja, but also photographing people on the streets, and fruits and vegetables at the markets. My camera is there to capture it all.”
Photo by Ezra Soiferman
Using the images captured during his residency, Soiferman has released two short films; The Walls of Montreal, a collection of 1,500 photographs of murals in the city, and Ez in Res, a collection of his favorite images produced during the residency.
“My hope is viewers get a thrill watching it. I hope they travel vicariously with me along this journey,” he said.
While the position was originally created as a one-year contract, Soiferman and Tweed were, at the time of this writing, discussing extending the residency beyond its July end date. They are also examining the creation of other artistic projects within the company.
“It's going to be something we do on an ongoing basis,” Sinclair said.
Photo by Ezra Soiferman
While Soiferman sees his position at Tweed as a once-in-a-career opportunity, he hopes his work will inspire other artists to seek residency positions of their own.
“Not just at cannabis companies, but all types of companies,” he said. “Nowadays, there’s not too much of it going on in the corporate world. To see Tweed push forward on this front sets a good example to other companies.”
See more of Soiferman’s work
And check out Walls of Montreal on YouTube: