“What would have happened in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? if they’d all gotten stoned instead of drunk, because drunk makes you aggressive and stoned makes you a little thoughtful and chatty and snacky?” Dan Savage asks. “As opposed to pointing a gun in the face of your wife.”
Savage, a sex columnist, the editorial director of Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, and the founder of the traveling amateur-porn film festival HUMP!, is batting around possibilities for a possible cannabis-themed remake of a classic film.
“I’m trying to think of a film or a TV show where, if everyone had gotten high at a crucial moment, it might have resolved the conflict,” he says.
Well, what about paranoia, the well-known (if unfortunate) side effect of cannabis that also happens to be a strong undercurrent in top-tier cinema.
“The Manchurian Candidate would be a perfect stoner parody in the Trump era,” he says.
Following the success of HUMP!, Savage has put out the call for submissions for a cannabis-themed film festival called SPLIFF, which screens in four cities — San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Denver — on April 20, 2019.
And when else, really? A “film festival made by the stoned, for the stoned,” it’s already got an arty trailer announcing the call for submissions that combines lots of context-free images from obscure, mid-20th-century pop arcana. In other words, it looks like they want highbrow shorts — nothing longer than four minutes, 20 seconds — as opposed to Cheech & Chong-style lowbrow comedies.
“Like HUMP!, it’s open to everything,” Savage says. “That’s the trailer, and we’re going to be tipping our hands a little as to what we’d like to see, but we’re looking for trippy films, community films, documentaries, parodies of anti-drug propaganda, animation, and — as in HUMP! — musicals. As creative as people want to get.”
In theory, HUMP!’s theme is explicit pornography, but not every entry goes in that direction. Some are downright sweet, their connection to erotica initially tenuous. But Savage is a vocal advocate for decriminalization of all drugs, à la Portugal. Would he be opposed to a cannabis-themed film that also had, for instance, scenes of revelers ingesting MDMA?
“You know, we haven’t really thought of that,” he says. “Just as with HUMP!, we don’t think about things until we have a film in front of us and we’re confronted with whatever that issue might be. This isn’t specifically limited to pot. I don’t think references to other drugs would disqualify a film, but it’s pot that we want to celebrate here. We have to judge it on a case-by-case basis.”
Thinking it through, he adds, “If there was a film that had potsmoking and equated it with smoking meth, I might have an issue with that, because I’ve seen a lot of devastation in the gay community caused by meth. I don’t think that meth brings good things into people’s lives.”
The eventual jury will consist of staffers from The Stranger and its sister publication in Portland, the Mercury. Since every screening falls on the same day, Savage can’t be present for more than one of them (although he seems to be leaning toward Denver). If, like HUMP!, it’s a success, SPLIFF might become an annual or otherwise regular event. Still, it’s only August, and as the festival is more than eight months away, some details have yet to be hammered out. But the real question isn’t so much “Why 2019?” as “Why not five years ago?”
Savage believes a sort of cultural momentum has been building that’s driving us not merely toward a consensus around decriminalization but toward a more public consumption in the vein of bars with alcohol. Phish shows, in other words, are not enough.
“The claiming of public spaces and the right to a public space and the celebration of pot by pot users, I think, is really important in continuing to drive this cultural shift and push us past this pivot point on pot where we see broad majorities in favor of decriminalization and recreational use,” he says. “Because it is not harmful, and because it is so extremely pleasurable.”
HUMP! has made a concerted effort toward diversifying its talent pool, and the same goes for SPLIFF. But with cannabis, the stakes are arguably higher, as comparatively fewer people languish in federal prison for low-level, nonviolent crimes pertaining to sex work the way the War on Drugs has destroyed the lives of millions of people — chiefly people of color.
“The unfinished business is the expunging from people’s records of marijuana convictions and the release from prison of people who are in there for marijuana possession. And not just possession: for distribution and dealing,” Savage says. “The mayor of Seattle said it’s unconscionable that there are people who have on their records convictions for that which is no longer a crime: possessing marijuana for personal use. You know what else is not a crime in Washington State? Selling it.”
Savage would like to see the explosive growth of the recreational cannabis industry establish a foundation to donate profits to the movement to clear people’s names, and if a filmmaker wants to tackle this subject for SPLIFF, he’s open to showing a little flexibility.
“We have a time limit of 4:20,” he says, “but if somebody couldn’t do it in 4:20 but they could do it in eight minutes, we would bend the rules around the length of time for them.”
What if former Speaker of the House John Boehner, a notorious cigarette smoker who recently recanted a career-long opposition to cannabis now that he’s joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, were to enter a film? Would Savage join San Francisco in a united chorus of boos?
“That would be fucking hilarious,” he says. “I would absolutely take that film, and I would probably put on either side of it films that would give John Boehner a heart attack.”
“There’s more than one way to tell someone to go fuck themselves,” he says. “We had a film in HUMP! a few years ago — when we made Mike Huckabee’s book God, Guns and Gravy a required prop in the movies — there was a woman sitting at the table reading from the book. You suddenly realized, mid-way through the film, someone was under the table with a vibrator and she was trying to maintain her composure as she got closer and closer to coming, reading Mike Huckabee’s words aloud. Literally, Mike Huckabee gave a speech at HUMP!, but it was rolled out in such a way that it exploded Mike Huckabee’s message. His sex-phobia and anti-pleasure, anti-queer shit was undermined by the way Mike Huckabee was presented in that film.
“A couple of people came up to me and said, ‘I had to listen to Mike Huckabee?’ ” he adds. “But most people were like, ‘If I ever had to listen to some bullshit come out of Mike Huckabee’s mouth, that was the way to do it.’ ”
See more details and information on how to submit at splifffilmfest.com