Next month, Mainers will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The state legalized medical marijuana in 1999, but since then, several other ballot measures to let one light up without a pot license have failed.
The Maine Cannabis Film Festival, on Oct. 22 and 23 at the Empire in Portland, features 14 hours and 17 different takes on the topic, from documentary to comedy, education to hazy fiction.
Tom Falby, co-founder of MCFF last year and a medical marijuana patient, didn’t know if the film festival would have an impact on undecided voters, but he said, “It would be nice if it did. Our goal is to reach a broader audience of people who don’t have a pressing need to educate themselves about medical cannabis, just so they know what’s going on surrounding cannabis in our country.”
Long and short-form films make up the two-day schedule, different each day, for a $15 pass that allows coming-and-going and caps each night with a Q & A with directors.
One of the long-form winners that especially caught Falby’s attention was “Grass Roots,” a documentary that follows a patient from the UK who has multiple sclerosis.
“Laws surrounding access there are restrictive,” Falby said. “The film shows him trying to treat his condition, having some success, and then frustration with a government and society that’s not allowing him to access something that will make him feel better.”
The patient comes to United States, to California and Colorado. It shows real time developments with his illness. The film depicts the potentially fractious nature of cannabis and familial responses to a relative who medicates with it. “It can drive a wedge into family relationships,” he said. “He has a real time hard time with his dad, who is staunchly against it until he sees the positive effects it has on his son’s life.”
A short film called “The Ripple Effect of PTSD” (featuring Bek Houghton and veteran Michael Harding) is part of a series by Australian producer and director Kym Melzer.
It’s the second set of films she’s created involving veterans and alternative health care.
She met her future stars at a television show “After the Parade.” In Australia, veterans are honored on ANZAC Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), with dawn services parades. As luck would have it, Melzer was sitting in the audience next to Harding’s parents, who were there to see their son speak about alternative medicines, including cannabis and floatation therapy.
“I could see straight away how passionate he was,” said Melzer, who was inspired to submit her resulting film to festivals because of this enthusiastic advocacy, encouraging other vets to find their own alternative ways to help in recovery.
In 2010 during a deployment to Afghanistan, Harding was involved in the Battle of Derapet, a firefight that lasted three and a half hours. A section mate, Jared, was shot and killed. A few days later, Harding was having involuntary, full-body muscular twitches.
“It was a physical manifestation of trauma, instead of an emotional one,” Harding said. “I still wanted to do my job. You know, you just sort of sucked it up, put on brave face and kept doing your job. Some of my mates were like, ‘Dude, you need to get checked out.’ In our culture, when you join the armed forces in a combat role, a lot of training is based on pushing the emotions out of you, to do your job and not question your job, to not be a burden on the rest of your mates. It instills that natural male tendency to not talk about what’s going on.”
He hesitated to tell Houghton, his partner and carer, or his parents of his injury at first, but when he was sent home with a PTSD diagnosis, they could easily see that his illness presented itself physically. “His friends nicknamed him Twitch,” Houghton said.
For a while, Harding tried the traditional medicinal route, what is called the “gold standard” in the film – a treatment of pharmaceuticals and talk therapy. But Houghton knew it was not working. Harding was suffering from chronic injuries, night sweats, anxiety and depression. He had turned to alcohol and drugs and gained weight. Australia has only started considering medicinal marijuana recently, and approving it mainly for young children with epilepsy and people with cancer, according to Melzer.
“The families are picking up the pieces,” Houghton said. “I didn’t feel like I got the support I needed. The doctors told me Michael would be on medication for the rest of his life. They said this ‘gold standard’ helps only three out of 10 people see some significant improvement.”
Legislation there this past August came at the perfect time. Harding began a regimen of medical marijuana, which he smoked, vaporized, ingested and used topically, as well as a reformed diet, meditational yoga, and body floatation (in 350 pounds of Epsom salt in a huge water tank). He quit drinking and using drugs. Much improved now, Harding wants to help others help themselves, and still expects more to be done by government agencies.
“The defense forces are excellent at breaking a person down, for one goal and that goal only. At the end of your service, there’s no training to become human again. You’re still part of the green machine. That’s setting people up to fail.”
The filmmaker wants more people to talk about PTSD and alternative ways to treat it. “The film is a way of keeping that discussion going,” Melzer said, “showing how someone moved from post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth.”
Saturday, Oct. 22
11 a.m. Shorts: All About the Truth; Green Smoke; Honk
11:35-11:45 a.m. Intermission
11:45 a.m. Game On
1:25-1:35 p.m. Intermission
1:35 p.m. The Green Standard
2:55-3:05 p.m. Intermission
3:05 p.m. Shorts: They Need Us; Princesses; Ripple Effect of PTSD
3:30-3:40 p.m. Intermission
3:40 p.m. GrassRoots
5:10 p.m. Q and A with Directors: Dale Beaumont Brown (GrassRoots) and Clif Lord (Doobious Sources)
Sunday, Oct. 23
11 a.m. Barcelonnabis
12:10-12:25 p.m. Intermission
12:25 p.m. Shorts: Banana Pearl; Board
12:55-1:05 p.m. Intermission
1:05 p.m. Doobious Sources
2:50-3:05 p.m. Intermission
3:05 p.m. Shorts:
Grow Give; Rasta Deer; Dune Rats Video
3:15-3:25 p.m. Intermission
3:25 p.m. Druglawed
5:05 p.m. Q and A with Directors
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