- Where Are We?
Here's the major challenge of creating a successful pot-themed film festival, especially one that's scheduled on the stoner high holiday of 4/20: Compile an impressive-enough lineup of feature films, shorts and ancillary entertainment — comedians, bands, munchies, trippy visuals — that will convince hardcore cannabis enthusiasts to get off the couch and out on the town for the evening.
That task is made even harder given that most online streaming services, such as Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, are already heavily infused with cannabis-themed content. As Variety reported last year, in California Netflix has even begun marketing its own strains of weed to complement some of its self-produced shows.
Despite such obstacles, a couple of film-fest veterans from New York City — festival cofounder/director Tim Mattson and cofounder David Walters — give it their best shot this week. On Friday, April 20, the third annual CannaBus Culture Film Festival blows into Burlington with the goal of "celebrating entertaining and educational films about cannabis," said Mattson.
Mattson, 43, who's been organizing film fests around the country since the 1990s, explained that he wanted to create a traveling cannabis-themed celebration of cinema. Hence the name, CannaBus, a reference to both the festival's mobile nature — the tour moves on to Miami, Fla., and Burbank, Calif., later this year — and '60s Merry Prankster Ken Kesey's metaphor of being "on the bus," or hip to, mind-altering substances.
CCFF doesn't have an actual bus yet, but Mattson said he hopes to eventually score one and use it to project films outdoors, much the way HBO does in midtown Manhattan for its annual Bryant Park Summer Film Festival.
This year's CCFF in Burlington will be held indoors at Burlington's Social Club & Lounge and features local and national standup comedy acts. The former include festival MC Nat Peters, a Montpelier comedian, writer and musician; headliner Casey James Salengo of Burlington; and fellow Queen City comedian and writer Antenna Wilde.
National acts include Chicago comedian Ryan Glover and Jersey City, N.J.'s Jonathan Edward Goodman. The latter is best known among the stoner set for his hit YouTube series "The Johno Show." The evening's musical guest is Burlington-based synthwave and '80s cover band, Night Protocol.
As for the films themselves, Mattson said that his intention was to move beyond the stupid-stoner stereotypes and keep the selection "more on the artistic side ... to show the positive aspects of cannabis culture."
Some might question how effectively the organizers achieved that goal. The festival's lone feature-length film, 2017's Pitching Tents, which makes its Northeast premiere at CCFF, stumbled with critics. Part Risky Business, part Porky's, the '80s-style coming-of-age teen sex romp was panned by the Los Angeles Times, which called it "all cutesy retro raunchiness without any innovation or comedic payoff." Variety labeled it "throwback flotsam ... too timorous to risk being truly offensive."
Alas, the short films also do little to raise the reputation of potheads above the stereotype of guffawing doofuses. Where Are We? is billed as a seven-minute stoner parody of a Scooby-Doo stakeout in a cloud-filled van, which ends "with disastrous results."
Elevated Thinking tells the story of a guy who gets baked in his apartment and believes that in a single night he's painted a masterpiece, recorded a smash-hit single and penned the great American novel. That is, until his girlfriend arrives and points out that it's all crap.
And, Two High 2 Die, a subtitled short from the Republic of Macedonia, is about two stoners who inadvertently egg the car of a newly released ex-con and then face the existential crisis of a potentially lethal ass-kicking. This film proves that stupid stonerisms transcend international boundaries.
But the festival is not entirely lacking in high points. Recalculating, a nine-minute flick about two buds who smoke some super-potent ganga while en route to a party and get their GPS unit high in the process, includes a cameo by nonagenarian Oscar winner Cloris Leachman. Dude, Where's My Ferret? features a talking, wise-ass bong and a weasel named Ferret Bueller. And Beginning of the Road is a 20-minute, dead-serious documentary about the therapeutic benefits of using cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ultimately, though, cannabis consumers aren't portrayed as the brightest of bulbs in this cinematic pot-pourri, good intentions notwithstanding.
Mattson pointed out that attendees won't be permitted to consume illicit substances on the premises — legalization in Vermont is still more than two months away. Of course, whatever is already in your system when you arrive is likely to enhance the experience.