The organizers of the New York City Cannabis Film Festival want you to know that theirs is not an event designed for stoners looking to watch videos and get high. Instead, they’re hoping to “elevate the cannabis culture” by connecting filmmakers with a budding (ahem) class of leaders and entrepreneurs.
On September 26, Brooklyn will host the first New York City Cannabis Film Festival, holding screenings at 4:20 and 7:10 at Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel. “[The film festival] basically says, ‘Hey, we’re here and we’re here in New York, we’re pushing for this and you can too, and be part of this great cultural movement,’ ” says Tim Mattson, the festival’s director and media coordinator of the cannabis Meetup group High NY.
The festival will feature several short films (divided, Mattson says, into three categories: animated, trippy, and “laugh your ass off, freak you out” funny) and a full-length international documentary about the Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, who discovered THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main chemical in cannabis that gets users high. “They promote advocacy in the fact that they do have cannabis-related things in the films,” says Mattson, who hopes the exposure in the films will draw more people to get involved in the cannabis movement.
The festival also brings exposure to filmmakers from around the U.S., the U.K., and Israel. “[Cannabis] is a global issue,” says Zach Klein, the documentarian behind The Scientist, about Mechoulam.
“I think the most important thing to note is the science behind cannabis,” says Klein. “Not only about the plant, but about our body, how our body works, it’s important to know how our brain works.” We learn about the cells and the immune system in biology class, Klein says, but few are aware of the endocannabinoid system — which modulates physiological processes like appetite, pain-sensation, memory, and mood, and mediates the effects of ingested cannabis. “I think it’s so important for everyone, not only for cannabis people, cannabis lovers, but for everyone who thinks about their health,” says Klein. “Cannabis should be a top priority for research, as it contains the key to many of our diseases. The endocannabinoid system is involved in all diseases known to humans.” Because of the found therapeutic effects of medical marijuana, Klein says, it’s “number one” to have on hand for a rainy day. “But not just for rainy days,” he adds. “Also for sunny days.”
Mattson projects that the festival will attract about 400 attendees and vendors — the latter of whom, he stresses, will not be selling actual cannabis, but, rather, promoting products like vaporizer pens or hemp wick.
Matthew Schwartz, creator of the short film Straight Outta Gotham, a stoner-Batman music video mash-up, says he hopes to meet other filmmakers and network with people in the independent film community. “It’s an opportunity for like-minded filmmakers to get together, possibly collaborate, exchange ideas, and bring people together to talk about the issues related to cannabis,” says Schwartz.
For future New York City Cannabis Film Festivals, Mattson hopes to include panel discussions and additional screenings. But for now, he says, “one thing you wanna be clear on, you can’t come here smoking, can’t come in here bringing joints. It’s not going to be allowed yet. We’re waiting on legalization to make that happen.”