2008 Documentary Films Series

Ganja Queen


Bali, Indonesia. Schapelle Corby, a 27-year-old Australian woman, languishes in Kerobokan Prison for a crime she insists she didn't commit. Shapelle had flown to Bali in October 2004 to join her sister Mercedes (married to a Bali man) for a two week vacation at the beach. Among her luggage was an unlocked boogie-board bag. When she arrived in Bali and was asked by customs officials to open the tote, she discovered a ten-pound bag of cannabis flattened next to the board. Though she says she knew nothing about the marijuana, Shapelle was immediately arrested, never imagining the firestorm that would ensue.

Ganja Queen explores the origins and outcome of this sensational case through in- prison interviews with Schapelle Corby, footage and interviews of her family (mother Rosleigh, father Michael, sister Mercedes, brother-in-law Wayan, and half-brother James) both in Bali and at home in Australia, flashback footage of Shapelle's arrest, and footage taken in and outside the courtroom during Schapelle's incendiary trial. As the sympathetic heroine at the center of the cauldron, Schapelle faces an unknown and unforgiving judicial process that could, potentially, have her executed (by firing squad) if found guilty. For Shapelle and the Corby family, the stakes could not be higher. For the media, in both Bali and Australia, the story could not be more compelling. Schapelle's comings and goings from her prison cell to a variety of meetings and interrogations make front-page headlines for months, with the public jostling nearly every day for a peek at Schapelle as she is hustled by authorities through a gauntlet of reporters and protesters (both pro and con).

In addition to chronicling the public and behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Corby, her family and legal team in the days, weeks and months leading up to her trial, the documentary explores numerous explanations for the appearance of the drugs in Corby's bag. Did this seemingly average young woman actually commit the crime for which she is accused? Did one of her family members put the marijuana in her bag without (or with) her knowing? Was there a connection to the Australian neighbor who grew pot on his property? Or was Schapelle simply the unlucky victim of a domestic drug-running operation? Indeed, with regard to the latter hypothesis, several intriguing developments arise during Schapelle's incarceration. In one report, we learn that Corby's flight occurred on the same day as a large shipment of cocaine was shipped out of the airport by a drug ring involving corrupt baggage handlers. In another, an Australian prisoner named John Patrick Ford comes forward to testify that he overheard a conversation in prison between two men in which they discussed planting the marijuana in Corby's boogie-board bag. Both pieces of news raise hopes for Schapelle's acquittal, as do reports that the marijuana bag had not been fingerprinted, and that baggage-handling security cameras in Sydney had not been working the day of her trip. One thing is certain: The evidence against Corby is sketchy, and most likely wouldn't rise to the level of "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" required in U.S. or Australian courts. Explaining why she might put a huge amount of marijuana in an unlocked bag, Corby scornfully asks, "Do you think somebody can be that stupid?"

Among Shapelle's most ardent advocates is Ron Bakir, an entrepreneur known to TV viewers for a series of outrageous commercials selling cell phones. Explaining that a nerve was struck when he saw an emotional Schapelle for the first time on TV, Bakir becomes one of her most vocal supporters, and pumps his own money into her defense. However, Bakir ends up crossing the line when (without consulting with her attorneys) he accuses the prosecution team of seeking a bribe to reduce the requested sentence - an unfounded allegation that might cost her the court's sympathy, as well as a more lenient penalty.

Ultimately, Shapelle's fate boils down to the opinion of a triumvirate of judges. Following an explosive trial, delayed when Schapelle collapses at one point in the courtroom, the verdict is finally carried live on television both locally and in Australia. Following the shocking sentence (not to be divulged in this summary), the Court orders the evidence - both the boogie-board bag and the marijuana - burned on a pyre. As a gaggle of police officers smile in the background, we see smoke rising up into the clear Bali sky.

Credits: Written, Produced and Directed by: Janine Hosking; Producer: Robin Eastwood; Editors: Janine Hosking and Stephen Hopes; Consulting Editor: Geof Bartz; Director of Photography: Ian Pugsley, A.C.S.; Music: Matt Walker. For HBO Documentary Films: Supervising Producer: Sara Bernstein; Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins.

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