Despite being the first state to debut recreational cannabis on Jan. 1, 2014, there are puzzling gaps in Colorado’s otherwise tightly packed weed culture.
Dozens of cannabis-themed cultural events, from comedy and hip-hop shows to classical-music fundraisers and fashion gatherings, have waved their green flags over the state in the last three years.
But this weekend, Colorado will finally host its first substantial marijuana-centric film festival — which remedies the lack of one in a state that’s found a way to capitalize on seemingly every other aspect of legal weed.
“A lot of times it really boils down to who is organizing and what level of support they’re getting,” said Tim Mattson, director and founder of the CannaBus Culture Film Festival, over the phone from New York City. “And we’ve been getting an incredible amount of support.”
Mattson’s CannaBus event, sponsored by Infinite Wellness Center, Willie’s Reserve and others, comes to the Magnolia Theatre at Fort Collins’ Lincoln Center Sept. 22-23. It’s so-named because Mattson and festival partner David Walters designed it as a touring event — first held last year in New York, and now expanding to a trio of cities in 2017, including Fort Collins and Seattle.
“We plan to eventually have an actual bus with a projector built into it … similar to what HBO does for movies in Bryant Park here in NYC,” Mattson said. “We’d like to host outdoor screenings at least half of the year and the other half inside.”
Mattson identifies the country’s first official weed-themed film fest as Northern California’s Cannabis Film Festival in 2015 (now being held in San Francisco), with his own New York Cannabis Film Festival close behind. The federal illegality of cannabis and its long-simmering cultural stigma have largely kept it off most programmers’ radars, he said, even as states have increasingly legalized pot across the board.
It’s starting to show: FilmFreeway.com, a festival submission site, is already advertising the Colorado International Cannabis & Hemp Film Festival for April 18, 2018, at Denver’s Bug Theatre.
Colorado’s CannaBus event is relatively modest in its programming goals, offering a pair of features and several shorts in two screening blocks 8-11 p.m. each night, with a free after-party at Maxline Brewing in Fort Collins on Sept. 22, and $5 awards-night after-party to be announced on Cannabus’ social media feeds Sept. 23.
Comic Rob Cantrell will play host, having once toured with Comedy Central’s “The Marijuana-Logues,” the off-Broadway show that helped launch the careers of stoner favorites Doug Benson and Arj Barker.
Cannabus Fest’s first feature is “Baked in Brooklyn,” starring Josh Brener (Big Head from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) as a guy who begins selling weed after losing his job, according to festival materials, with Alexandra Daddario from this summer’s “Baywatch” reboot co-starring. The second is the moody crime thriller “Dark Harvest,” the first cannabis-related movie to feature Cheech Marin since his legendary stoner-comedy duo’s last live-action film (1985’s short-form Cheech & Chong video “Get Out of My Room”).
CannaBus marks the first big cannabis-themed entertainment event to hit Fort Collins’ Lincoln Center since its $8 million renovation in 2010 — or ever, as far as anyone there can remember.
“I wouldn’t say I have any misgivings, seeing as how we are a city-owned and -operated facility, and as such we want to makes sure not to trample on anyone’s rights,” said Jack Rogers, executive director of the Lincoln Center. “I don’t present cannabis-centric events, but I’m not going to stand in the way of anyone’s First Amendment rights to rent the building and present something — as long as they meet the same standards as any other client.”
Those standards, of course, include not bringing or consuming any cannabis on-site (which is illegal in Fort Collins), even if it’s safe to assume a majority in attendance will be smuggling plenty of THC in their bloodstreams. Willie’s Reserve will also hand out coupons to be redeemed at area dispensaries, Mattson said, noting that his event will adhere to all state laws regarding cannabis.
“We considered Denver (for the festival), but our deal is we’re trying to hit more millennials, so college towns are a focus,” Mattson said. “Boulder was another option, but we really like Fort Collins and feel like it’s a natural fit.”
Natural, and casual. When the CannaBus fest debuted last year, it was at a private residence in New York’s Hudson Valley with about 50 people in attendance. The second event was a 2-day screening at an art studio in Times Square that drew a little more than 150 people.
Mattson is confident this year’s Fort Collins event — which costs $16 per day or $29 for a festival pass — will exceed that, filling all 226 seats at the Magnolia for both nights. He spent $15,000 to put it together and promote, versus $10,000 for the most recent CannaBus event in Brooklyn in June.
“Stoners have their top 10 favorite films, as do I, but I’ve seen them so many times so I wanted to up the ante and make it more diverse in subject matter. Maybe less male-based, maybe more gay,” he said of the mix of films, which are curated from an online submission process.
“I want to grow our budget so we can see a full weekend of programming in the future. … It’s all about the showing the current state of affairs in the world of cannabis, so it’s a bit of info-tainment mixed in with showing cannabis in a positive light.”