Text: by Andrew Arnett. Pictures: @AndrewArnett.

The first New York City Cannabis Film Festival took place on September 26th at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, New York.

This ground breaking festival kicked off appropriately at 4:20 p.m.(…)

This ground breaking festival kicked off appropriately at 4:20 p.m. and though no smoking was allowed, our host The Sucklord reminded all to eat some free popcorn and “if you ask nicely, someone might infuse it for you.”

The festival featured seven short films and one full length documentary.

The films consisted of an eclectic mix of cartoons, music videos, and narratives.

Outstanding amongst the shorts was The Lotus Gun, a 25-minute sci-fi set in a 2077 post-apocalyptic world where guns are no longer allowed. A pair of pot smoking girls are pitted against a meth-like drug gobbling gang of crazies in this pulp future western that ends in a genre fitting showdown.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the music video Straight Outta Gotham, a NWA style Batman mash-up featuring a host of Gotham’s villains including a blunt toking Joker.

Another standout was Rolling with the Kings. Both entertaining and educational, this short film demonstrates some truly creative rolling techniques, accompanied by an exceptional soundtrack.

The featured film was a 63-minute documentary by Zach Klein called The Scientist, about the life of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.

Dr. Mechoulam, along with colleagues Dr. Yehiel Gaoni and Dr. Haviv Edery, were the first to isolate D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Dr. Mechoulam, along with colleagues Dr. Yehiel Gaoni and Dr. Haviv Edery, were the first to isolate D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Director Zach Klein had unprecedented access to Dr. Mechoulam as the film traces the good doctors life from his early years as a child of the Holocaust to his current position as professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Mechoulam’s ground breaking work includes discovering how THC interacts with the human bodies endocannabinoid system. Finding that the human brain produces its own form of cannabis, his team coined the newly discovered chemical anandamide, from the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning “bliss.”

The New York City Cannabis Film Festival is the brain child of High NY, a cannabis awareness meet up group in New York run by Mike Zaytsev and Tim Mattson.

Picture: @AndrewArnett
Picture: @AndrewArnett

Aevent, I spoke to both Mike and Tim about the film festival and goals of the High NY community.

ARNETT: What is High NY?

As the legal cannabis industry evolves, we want to make sure that authentic cannabis culture and values are preserved

MIKE ZAYTSEV: High NY was started in 2014 to bring the successful community building and innovation techniques from the NYC tech scene to the cannabis industry. Our model was New York Tech Meetup. There is no shortage of talented, creative people in New York who love cannabis. However, there was no safe, public forum for those people to meet and gather. High NY exists to give the community a place to meet, exchange ideas, collaborate, and ultimately facilitate innovation. Our focus is to empower leaders to move this industry forward in a responsible way. The goal is to support leaders and entrepreneurs who are passionate about cannabis and view it as a technology which can create massive positive impact globally. As the legal cannabis industry evolves, we want to make sure that authentic cannabis culture and values are preserved.

ARNETT: How did this cannabis film festival come about?

TIM MATTSON: Mike and I were sitting around talking about High NY, ways to get us out of the box. I have done many film festivals before and I figured hey, why not do a film festival. No one else is doing a cannabis film festival so why not us and might as well get on it while the iron is hot, or whatever, because otherwise we’re gonna miss out.

ARNETT: You mention you’ve had experience organizing film festivals before.

TIM MATTSON: Yes, I’ve done the Mohegan Lake Film Festival. In the 1990’s I was part of the Olympia Film Festival in Olympia, Washington, which is where I’m from. I used to be the animation film programmer there. I had my start on radio in Olympia, where we played music from Kill Rock Stars and K Records.

ARNETT: What qualifies as a cannabis film?

TIM MATTSON: It is not a genre. It can defy genres if it wants. The whole point with it is that it could have a reference, it could have smoking in it, or it could be a film that’s for when you get high. There’s no cannabis reference in the film, but it is fun to watch while stoned.

ARNETT: Like the Wizard of Oz?

TIM MATTSON: Right. If it fits within our theme we’ll take it .

ARNETT: Tell me more about High NY?

People are often surprised by how diverse our audience is

MIKE ZAYTSEV: High NY is made up of warm, talented, creative people. I’m constantly amazed by the friendliness and openness of our community. Everyone is always willing to help each other and we have so many generous volunteers who help because they deeply believe that cannabis will change the world. People are often surprised by how diverse our audience is. It’s beautiful to see people from all walks of life come together and share their experiences to honor the plant. We’ve recently started attracting more and more people who don’t use cannabis, but simply see prohibition as wrong and impractical.

ARNETT: What are the greatest obstacles to cannabis legalization today?

We have to lead by example –by having the sometimes tough conversations with our friends, family, etc.

MIKE ZAYTSEV: A number of things come to mind, but I think fear is the greatest obstacle. Many people outside of cannabis culture are grossly under-educated or worse, miseducated about this plant and it’s many virtues. People are afraid of change, especially if they’ve lived their whole lives being told that this plant is a dangerous drug that destroys the fabric of society. There are also various corporate interests that fear their profits will be disrupted by legalization. Also, I think many “average cannabis consumers” –if there is such a thing– are afraid to publicly embrace their cannabis use. If the people who love this plant and benefit from it all the time are not willing to use their voice and energy to steer those outside of cannabis culture to the truth, it’s a huge issue. We have to lead by example –by having the sometimes tough conversations with our friends, family, etc. That’s how we can raise awareness, show people the facts, undo the stigma around cannabis, and ultimately end prohibition.

For more information go to High NY.