The feature film American Pot Story: Oaksterdam will have its Hollywood premiere on Thursday, June 29 at the Dances With Films festival in Los Angeles, with festivities planned for the event including an appearance from weed icon Tommy Chong and a Q&A with the film’s directors, Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus. The premiere continues a successful string of screenings for the film about the cannabis legalization efforts of Oakland-based cannabis training school Oaksterdam University, including the world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in January that garnered the prestigious Audience Award for Unstoppable Feature.
American Pot Story: Oaksterdam follows two of the driving forces behind the institution, founder Richard Lee and executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones, over a pivotal decade for both the pioneering cannabis college and the marijuana legalization movement.
“In 2010, we read in the newspaper that a group of activists was saying they’re going to do a legalization ballot measure in California,” director Dan Katzir explains in a virtual interview. “To us, it seemed like the media was laughing at them in their faces treating them as stoners that think they can change a policy that will never be changed.”
Film Documents More Than 10 Years Of Activism
Katzir and Markus followed Jones and Lee’s campaign for Proposition 19, the 2010 ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California that captured nearly 47% of the vote. The effort led to the film Legalize It, but the proposition’s failure at the polls gave the film a “sad ending,” says Katzir.
“We didn’t want to end our journey into this world of cannabis activism with that sad defeat,” he continues. “We had a feeling that the story of marijuana policy reform is not over yet, so we decided to do a new film about Oaksterdam, America’s first cannabis school that transformed the entire downtown of Oakland into a hub of marijuana resistance.”
Jones says in a telephone interview that she found it “borderline excruciating” to watch herself on American Pot Story: Oaksterdam when she first viewed the film. But overall, she is quite pleased with the outcome.
“I’m so terribly proud of the story they managed to tell,” she says. “It really did capture the essence of what we were trying to get across.”
To gain support for Proposition 19, the campaign focused largely on how the prohibition of marijuana and the resulting War on Drugs has consumed resources that could be going to other needs including public education.
“It’s my job to tie, whatever it is you care about to the drug war,” states Jones. “Because I promise, the drug war is only one degree of separation from stealing resources from something you care about, including maybe someone you care about.”
“Once you can start drawing lines of the cost of putting someone in prison versus the cost of putting someone in college or even more importantly, putting them in preschool, it really starts to hit home,” she adds. “And I think that’s what this movie does.”
The film also follows the evolution of Oaksterdam over more than 10 years, including a 2012 raid by the DEA that many blame on the efforts to pass Proposition 19. The film also follows the push to draft a new initiative that resulted in the legalization of cannabis in California in 2016.
Hollywood Premiere This Week
The Hollywood premiere for American Pot Story: Oaksterdam will take place on Thursday, June 29 at the TCL Chinese Theatres on Hollywood Boulevard as part of the Dances With Films festival. Running through July 2, Dances With Film is celebrating its 25th year in 2023, featuring screenings of more than 250 films.
The premiere will be followed by a Q&A with Katzir and Markus and film participants Dale Sky Jones, Jeffrey Jones and actor Tommy Chong. Later, an after-party will be held at Teddy’s nightclub at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for ticket holders and special guests.
The directors of American Pot Story: Oaksterdam hope the film will be screened at additional events through the summer and have applied to several other film festivals for consideration. They also are vying to be selected by a streaming platform, a process that Katzir says fans can support by following the film on Instagram and Facebook.