Movies

Changing marijuana attitudes play a leading role in cannabis filmmaking

The cinematic journey of marijuana use in film reflects the changing attitudes toward cannabis in general. Just looking at the path from the “Reefer Madness” (1936) to “Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke” (1978) to modern-day documentaries on Netflix about cannabis, you can see the zig-zagged road from the stiff penalties for use decades ago to recent legalization in several states as a result of popular vote.

The Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival and Summit, set for April 20-22, seeks to explore and expand on the current attitudes toward cannabis and the people that use it.

A poster for the 1968 film “Maryjane” is one display at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. (Brooke Edwards Staggs, The Cannifornian)

This new film festival has been organized to start progressive discussions about eroding stereotypes and the unlimited potential that lies ahead with legalization of this amazing yet controversial plant.

We talked with Giacomina Marie and Paul Palodichuk, festival directors of the Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival and Summit to determine some of the cultural motivating factors that got us from point A to point B in acceptance of cannabis use on film.

Q: Why was weed vilified in the U.S. media initially? By today’s standards, “Reefer Madness” seems like a silly propaganda film. Do you think it was dismissed as such when it was released in 1936? 

A: We have films addressing the vilification of cannabis. We are going to play Jack Herer’s story “Emperor of Hemp” and our opening night film from Italy also addresses the history of the vilification and prohibition of cannabis.

No, it wasn’t dismissed as much. People bought into the fear because the only information they had was in the newspaper and films. It got set into our parents’ and grandparents’ minds that this plant was bad.

Q: In 1933, Prohibition had been repealed, so you think there would be a new kind of acceptance toward recreational use. Do you think movies and media painted marijuana as something used by poor unsophisticated people while alcohol was marketed as a reward for the working class and/or wealthy?

A: If you review all forms of media, including films, from the ’30s it is plain to see that alcohol is accepted and that cannabis went from “Reefer Madness” to the stoner films. Our film festival is inviting documentaries and new information about cannabis and how it part of the whole worldwide culture. It is now coming into the light from medicine to relaxation and more.

Q: Comedy is a common theme for pot-related movies. Is there an early pivotal movie that comes to mind that shows marijuana use as beneficial or even medicinal instead of comical?

A: We don’t think entertainment has reached the point of understanding the wider use of cannabis. There are documentaries that have addressed this, but narrative film really has yet to address it as a central theme. It had come in as a part of the story but not as the central focus.

We think, unfortunately, that much of American society is still mired in the perception that cannabis is nothing more than a recreational alternative to alcohol. This is a tragic flaw in understanding relative to what the whole plant can do.

Q: Although people’s minds are changing, the medicinal marijuana movement was initially painted by the federal government as an inauthentic, ineffective treatment for illness and as a loophole for selling and buying. Do you think movies have helped or hurt that stereotype? Is it the movies’ job to influence and educate or just to entertain?

A: It’s both. Films that entertain are important and movies that educate are important. Popular culture films, until recently, have not helped the medicinal movement. We feel very fortunate because we are receiving inspirational and educational documentaries from the lifestyle of a grower to how it helps children with seizures in Australia.  These films will help move the global conversation forward about the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis.

Q: With the recent change in recreational use laws, new opportunities with cannabis abound. The fact that Palm Springs, a city known for a world-class film festival, is open to hosting your Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival and Summit shows the times they are a-changing. For so long, pot use has been hush-hush. Do you think filmmakers are feeling a liberty to tackle the subject they didn’t have before?

A: Absolutely! We think they have been waiting for legalization and even normalization of cannabis in our society.

Q: Marijuana movies tend to be low-key comedies or smaller independent releases. Do you foresee a day of a bud-related blockbuster? Will there be baked superheroes and stony action adventures as smoking moves to the mainstream?

A: Yes, we bet there is a blockbuster in the works right now.  There are already online channels that offer programs like cooking with cannabis and baked super-heroes.

Q: There are some good ones, but can you narrow what your top pot movie picks are, oldest to newest?

A: Our team likes “The Big Lebowski.”

The ones we have chosen for this film festival have quickly become some of our favorites!

If you go

What: The Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival and Summit

When: April 20-22

Where: Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs

Admission: $15-$249

Information: 760-898-9602; www.pscff.org


To subscribe to The Cannifornian’s email newsletter, click here.