[Pictured: Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical]
By Stephanie Ornelas
It’s April 20, so chances are you’ll hear someone crack a joke about cannabis today. It’s simply unavoidable. So, why not watch some Sundance-supported movies about the popular yet controversial drug today, too? Whether it’s an informative documentary about medical marijuana and its legalization in the U.S. or a hilariously wild stoner adventure, you can count on Sundance Institute to have screened some pretty fun and captivating films about pot use.
While filmmakers have done an excellent job creating comedic narratives involving the drug, the advancements around its legalization — and the pain-relieving benefits it brings to many — make for a fascinating story, as well. After all, recreational marijuana is now legal in 21 states and medical marijuana is legal in 38. There’s no question that marijuana legalization has been and continues to be a hot-button topic, so let’s take a look at some of the films centered on cannabis use and legalization that received support from Sundance Institute:
Saving Grace (2000 Sundance Film Festival)
After Grace (Brenda Blethyn) loses her husband to a parachute accident, she’s left with a beautiful manor house on the Cornish coast — and a bunch of debt. Desperate for financial help, she looks to her unemployed caretaker (Craig Ferguson), who suggests she turn her orchid hothouse into a marijuana plantation. Nigel Cole’s charming British comedy won the Audience Award: World Cinema at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. Check here for viewing options.
Scarfies (2000 Sundance Film Festival)
When five “scarfies” — the slang term for students at Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand — take over an abandoned house, they’re thrilled to discover a stockpile of marijuana plants growing in the basement. They decide to sell the entire batch and bask in their newfound wealth — until the owner of the plantation shows up looking for his product. As the students are overcome with fear and paranoia, they lock the horticulturist in the basement and contemplate the unthinkable. Robert Sarkies’ comedy-thriller stars Taika Waititi, Willa O’Neill, Neill Rea, Ashleigh Seagar, Charlie Bleakley, and Jon Brazier. Watch it for free on YouTube.
Rolling Kansas (2003 Sundance Film Festival)
When down-on-their-luck brothers Dick and Dave (James Roday Rodriguez, Jay Paulson) discover that their hippie parents, who were sent to prison when the boys were young, left them a map to a secret government marijuana field, they set out to find it with the help of their brother Dinkadoo (Sam Huntington) and their two friends.
“What appears at first to be a stoner comedy reveals itself less ‘up in smoke’ and excitingly more complex, largely stemming from the ensemble of fresh, nuance-driven performances that comically collide in one brief vision of a better world,” writes Joseph Beyer in the 2003 Festival Program Guide. “Credit actor-turned-director Thomas Haden Church, […] ends up creating an ageless world of Super-8 saturation where big dreams, big fears, big friendship, and big sky all blend together perfectly without even one toke.” Check viewing options here.
Waiting to Inhale (2004 Sundance Documentary Film Grant)
Though there are many, not all movies about marijuana use are action-comedies. Some are educational documentaries that offer incredible insight. In 2004, Sundance Institute gave director Jed Riffe a Documentary Film Grant to support his project that examines tensions and debates brought on by efforts to legalize medical marijuana.
His film takes viewers inside the lives of patients who have been forever changed by illness as well as parents who have lost children to addiction. The documentary works to answer questions like “Is marijuana really a gateway drug?” and “What evidence is there to support the claim that the drug can alleviate some of the devastating symptoms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other serious illnesses?” Filmed in the early 2000s, the film presents evidence that showed how marijuana would hold a big stake in the future of medicine. Check viewing options here.
Code of the West (2013 Artist Services digital releases)
The focus of Rebecca Richman Cohen’s film is the state of Montana — once a pioneer in the legalization of medical marijuana, it was set to become the first state in the nation to repeal its medical marijuana law when the documentary was being filmed. Code of the West follows the political process of marijuana policy reform and the recent federal crackdown on medical marijuana growers across the country.
The documentary was released digitally in 2013 as part of Sundance Institute’s Artist Services program. Through this initiative, the Institute helps independent filmmakers release their films through a variety of digital platforms. Check viewing options here.
Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005 Sundance Film Festival)
In 2005, the Sundance Film Festival premiered an outrageous tongue-in-cheek musical comedy adaptation of the classic 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film we all know and love — Reefer Madness. In Andy Fickman’s hilarious film, marijuana abuse leads a wholesome teenager (Christian Campbell) and his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) down the road to ruin.
“With sparkling musical numbers starring the likes of Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, Christian Campbell, Ana Gasteyer, and Neve Campbell, Andy Fickman’s film adaptation of his award-winning stage production is a delirious musical extravaganza that will leave you feeling high as a kite,” writes Elizabeth Richardson in the 2005 Festival Program Guide. Check viewing options here.