Thursday, May 11, 2023


 Another Amazing Review in Art Beats LA. Thanks  Kurt Gardner.


Slamdance Review: ‘American Pot Story: Oaksterdam’

The story of passionate activists seeking to legalize marijuana all around the country is told in this absorbing documentary.

Now that recreational marijuana is legal in half the country, it’s strange to think that — not so long ago — pot was demonized, along with its proponents.

Making its world premiere at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival last month, American Pot Story: Oaksterdam is the heretofore untold story of such proponents — a group of dedicated people who worked tirelessly to make marijuana available to everyone. The documentary chronicles the efforts of this group that fought to get Prop 19 — the measure to legalize cannabis — on the ballot.

Filmmakers Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus spent 10 years following these people, and the result is an absorbing and inspiring documentary.

Though medical marijuana was permitted in much of the country, cannabis activists wanted the laws to be relaxed further, so that it could be used recreationally. One of those people was Richard Lee, a Texas native who believed: “You break the law to change the law.”

Richard Lee, co-proponent of Prop 19, at the Election Day Press Conference (photo courtesy of the fimmakers).

A fall from a scaffolding had left Lee a paraplegic, and he found that marijuana offered him more relief than traditional medications. He was inspired to promote his pro-cannabis stance with the largest, loudest megaphone possible.

So, in 2007, he founded Oaksterdam, the world’s first college with a cannabis curriculum, in Oakland, California. He is joined by Dale Sky Jones, a woman whose life was at a crossroads before she’d come to to the university, and she finally found a place that ignited her activist passion. She also found a husband, Jeff Jones, who’d brought her to Oaksterdam.

The controversial college gets a lot of coverage from both left- and right-wing press, curious about its mission, but Lee has a loftier goal in mind — to get the passage of Prop 19 on the ballot. In 2010, Lee personally funded the campaign to the tune of $1.4 million.

Dale Sky Jones, Chancellor of Oaksterdam University, when she was Prop 19 Spokesperson (photo courtesy of the filmmakers).

After much canvassing to promote the initiative with the help of volunteers, the team was thunderstruck when they lost. Even worse, the DEA seized the opportunity to raid the university and Lee’s other properties. Though he was never charged, the dispirited Lee resigned and Jones took over as chancellor.

From this point forward, it becomes Jones’ story. Whether pregnant or toting a toddler, she crisscrosses the country, espousing the benefits of legalization.

American Pot Story: Oaksterdam is populated by key players in the pot wars, from current California governor Gavin Newsom, Representative Barbara Lee, Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad and Neill Franklin to Alice Huffman, David Downs, Evan Nison, Ann Lee and Salwah Ibrahim. It’s a comprehensive lineup.

Regarding the film’s lengthy production schedule, Markus told CelebStoner: “When we started in 2010 I thought ‘We’ll film a revolution and will have a new film in the can within a year.’ The revolution took much longer and is not yet finished.”

American Pot Story: Oaksterdam was honored with the Audience Award at Slamdance. To be notified of upcoming screenings, visit the American Pot Story site.


 Thanks Benjamin Franz for the amazing review on Film Threat of our new film: American Pot Story:

Film Threat Review: American Pot Story :Oaksterdam

Marijuana is a wondrous herb. It’s a pain killer and mood enhancer, making life possible for people suffering from various ailments. Of course, once the prohibition of alcohol was lifted, Harry Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics needed a new drug to vilify and prohibit. They settled on marijuana and started a ninety-year reign of terror against U.S. citizens.

In the shadow of DEA enforcement then, it’s remarkable that Richard Lee sought to found a college to train people how to run small medical marijuana businesses. That institution, Oaksterdam, is one-of-a-kind, and I am so very grateful I get to review the marvelous historical retrospective of Oaksterdam and its political crusade to legalize recreational marijuana, American Pot Story: Oaksterdam. This brave work, written by Dan Katzir and directed by Katzir and Ravit Markus, is a testament to the enduring spirit of liberty that will repel the evil plots of the Federal Government every time.

After relocating, in 2007, from Texas to Oakland, CA, Lee decided to help small business marijuana distributors by training entrepreneurs how to develop dispensaries and grow medical marijuana for profit. By 2008, Dale Sky Jones had relocated to Oakland and needed something to do. So she enrolled in Oaksterdam and now serves as its chancellor. Before that, she completed her training and became the executive in charge of the day-to-day running of the educational program.

“…Lee sought to found a college to train people how to run small medical marijuana businesses.”

Lee and Jones are the central personalities at the heart of the first-ever effort to legalize recreational marijuana: 2010’s failed Prop 19. Although the legislation failed, it was a watershed moment. It led to the 2012 DEA-powered raid of Oaksterdam and eventually to the retirement of Richard Lee. Jones grabbed the baton and had to figure out a way forward for the university.

American Pot Story: Oaksterdam shows how brilliant a lady Jones is. She is a vivacious interviewee and following her as she canvasses California in support of the eventually victorious Prop 64 is fascinating. Richard Lee is a quiet, more taciturn individual. Bound to a wheelchair thanks to an accident in his youth, his half smile is charming. Lee walks us through the mentality of running a school you know the Federal government could shut down at any time. The 2010 mural promoting marijuana legalization that used to sit on the outer wall of Oaksterdam was his brainchild and a wondrous monument. When it eventually got painted over, this fueled the fight to legalize weed and force the Federal Government to respect states’ rights.

A cleanly shot, beautifully edited film, this documentary relates the definitive story of marijuana legalization on the state level. Will the Federal Government ever get out of the way? Only time will tell. For now, it’s a damn good thing that people like Lee and Jones are wandering this Earth, determined to leave it a little better than they found it. Katzir and Markus deserve award consideration for this magnificent work.

This is a must-watch for every American. Sure, our empire is powerful and scary, but it can be opposed in a non-violent way and forced to do the right thing. American Pot Story: Oaksterdam brilliantly captures a moment where two people led, inspired, and educated hundreds, if not thousands, of others on the way to regaining some freedom in America.


 Our Film won an Audience award at Slamdance!!! WOWA WEEWA!


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

My film on screenrant's list of 10 Best Sacha Baron Cohen Movies, Ranked (According To IMDB)

10 Best Sacha Baron Cohen Movies, Ranked (According To IMDB)

Sacha Baron Cohen may be famous as Borat, but his best movies may surprise you, with drama and award-winners in there too.
While most people know Sacha Baron Cohen for his comedy, where it seems there are no boundaries that he is not willing to smash right through, there is more to the English actor than that. Cohen has been acting for 25 years now, and it isn't only comedies in his filmography. He has some critically acclaimed dramatic roles as well.
Of course, most of his work has been in comedic roles, including the productions that have him taking on roles where he changes his looks to fool people into revealing true things about themselves. With 41 credits to his name in TV and movie roles, here are the ten best.

10THE DICTATOR (2012) - 6.4

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator
The Dictator was considered a letdown following Sacha Baron Cohen's critically acclaimed Borat, but it was at least considered an improvement from his panned Bruno. The first two movies saw Cohen disguise himself to try to fool people into either revealing their hidden truths or just to make them look like fools. This time, they went for a more standard narrative
Larry Charles, who directed all three, had Cohen star as Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of a fictional country who is visiting the United States. While audiences gave the film as a "C" cinema score, more liked it than not according to IMDb ratings.


The film least known on this list is the autobiographical film, Out for Love, Be Back Shortly. The movie was made by Dan Katzir, who tells the story of his generation's struggle to find love as well as privacy in a reality that includes hatred and terror.
Released in 1997 in Israel, Sacha Baron Cohen stars as Katzir tells his story of finding love with Iris, a girl about to start her military service. The film is also known for its rare scenes of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. It won 13 awards across the world.


There are three different Madagascar movies on the list of the 10 best films of Sacha Baron Cohen's career, based on IMDb ratings. The lesser of the three is the second movie in the series. For those who do not know, Cohen voiced King Julien in the franchise.
In this movie, Alex ends up back in Africa with all his zoo friends and finds his family and their lives as rulers of the African animal kingdom. This is also the movie that gives Cohen's King Julian his most prominent role as he tries to regain the rule over his own kingdom of creatures.

7TALLADEGA NIGHTS (2006) - 6.6

In 2006, Sacha Baron Cohen broke out. Known before this for his role on the TV series Ali G Indahouse, Cohen got his first big Hollywood live-action role in the Will Ferrell movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. The film was a spoof of auto racing, with Ferrell starring as Ricky Bobby.
Sacha Baron Cohen was the antagonist and rival to Ricky Bobby, the arrogant French Formula One driver Juan Girard. When he outperforms Bobby and becomes the latest big thing, it is up to Bobby to regain his mojo and prove he still is the best.


The third movie in the Madagascar series follows the animals from the New York City zoo, back together again as they end up in Europe and find new friends and hijinks as they fight to get back home.
This film sees the New York zoo animals ending up joining a European circus as they try to find out a way to get back to the United States. However, they are on the run from a crazed animal control officer. The series then ended with the animals finally realizing their home was not behind bars after all.

5MADAGASCAR (2005) - 6.9

The movie that started it all in the Madagascar series introduces the world to the colorful cast of characters, focusing on the zebra Marty, lion Alex, and giraffe Melman. However, while those are the lead characters, the best comes from the side characters that steal all the scenes they are in.
This, of course, includes the Penguins and King Julian. This is the film where Julian, a king in Madagascar, leads an attack on them before ending up reluctantly helping these zoo animals try to get back home. Madagascar was Cohen's first major U.S. film.

4BORAT (2006) - 7.3

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat
The movie that made Sacha Baron Cohen a household name was his 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This played similar to his Ali G TV role as he dressed up as Borat Sagdiyev and set out to discover America.
Since Cohen was an unknown face to most of America at the time, he was able to trick many people with his gimmick and shot scenes across America, where he asked them to explain American culture to him. A few people sued him for how the film made them look, but it won Cohen a Golden Globes Award.

3SWEENY TODD (2007) - 7.3

Sacha Baron Cohen as Adolfo Pirelli in Sweeney Todd
In 2008, Sacha Baron Cohen signed on to play a role in Tim Burton's big-screen adaptation of the Tony Award-winning stageplay, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The musical starred Johnny Depp as the murderous barber and Helena Bonham Carter as his partner, Mrs. Lovett.
Cohen starred in the movie as Adolfo Pirelli, one of the antagonists in the film. He was the Italian barber who Sweeney Todd humiliated, and he was also one of the first victims of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

2HUGO (2011) - 7.5

It should come as no surprise that one of Sacha Baron Cohen's best movies according to IMDb rankings is one directed by Martin Scorsese. The film was the 2011 release Hugo. The film told the story of a boy who lives alone in a railway station in Paris in the 1930s.
The film was a monster success, with 11 Oscar nominations and three Golden Globe nominations. However, it was a flop at the box office, despite its high IMDb rating. Cohen stars as Inspector Gustave Dasté, the law enforcement officer who is always a threat to send Hugo to an orphanage.

1LES MISERABLES (2012) - 7.6

There have been several versions of Les Miserables, with the one in 2012 featuring Sacha Baron Cohen in the cast. Directed by Tom Hooper, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe lead the way in this version of the historical musical about a man hunted for years by a ruthless policeman.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter starred as the Thenardiers, the innkeepers who act as secondary antagonists in the story, blackmailing and abusive figures who make sure that Jean Valjean's life never goes the way he dreams.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Mike Meadavoy screening and KCRW story I found by Evan Kleinman and I'm in it... pretty cool

Now that I'm working on revising our website - I've been Googling myself to look for links and found these two below. One is for a screening of my film OUT FOR LOVE at Sinai Temple with Mike Meadavoy one of the greatest producers alive. The other is for a story on KCRW I'm in that I wasn't aware I was part of.


In 2012, I didn't know much about KCRW. I was still somewhat of a newbie in the world of public radio.
I guess I was a judge in a food competition with Evan Kleinman who since then I've become a huge fan of.

Thanks to Google I recently found this story on KCRW's page. Not sure I ever posted it before.
So for my own history  I decided to make sure it lives at least on my page.

Hummus Competition – aka Continuing Food Education

Written by   
I don’t judge many food competitions, but when I was asked to judge a Hummus Competition I was intrigued. I eat hummus. I make hummus. But I’m not an expert on the addicting puree.
I’ve never been to Israel or Lebanon or Egypt so I have no frame of reference for what is considered correct and delicious in situ.  I have no idea of regional variations.  The contest, organized by filmmaker Avital Levy, and billed as a fundraiser for her documentary “Hummus Wars” would feature “5-7 contestants – all very different – a couple Israelis, a few Americans, 1 or 2 who never made hummus before, a chef for Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks studios and one for an Egyptian restaurant.
Since 2007 Israel and Lebanon have battled with chickpeas and tahini over the Guinness World Record for the largest bowl of hummus.  As the years go by the competition has pushed the size from a paltry 900 lbs to the current Lebanese behemoth bowl at 23,042 lbs (see photo above).  The title has gone back and forth across the border over the years.
The competition at a private home in the Hollywood Hills featured American, Israeli and Egyptian competitors.  How could I turn down such an excellent opportunity to further my hummus education?  My fellow judges were Dudi Caspi, writer for Shavua Israel and hummus lover and Dan Katzir, filmmaker and hummus blogger.  The MC started the evening off with the comment, “The moon is rising over the trees like a big bowl of hummus.”
Entries ranged from a lemony, super smooth Egyptian puree to a rough mash made in the pre-blender/food processor style.  There was an assertive SoCal version made with Jalapenos and a New York entry that was dense and sweetened with caramelized onions.  Cumin was omnipresent in some and nearly absent in others.  A couple could have used a little salt.  I learned a lot, laughed even more and learned that democracy is a powerful thing.  Turns out that we judges came to the same conclusion as the audience “tasters” who were texting their faves.
The winner for 2012  was the super smooth lemony hummus made by Egyptian Nancy Boules of Cafe Dahab. Runner up was 70 year old Jerusalemite Ram Alkaly, represented by his son Ben.


Another story I felt is also important to mention since we just discussed Hummus on my blog -  is one the mainstream media gave very little attention to. It was a small story but a huge gesture. I felt that I should mention it here so that I can see if my instincts about it's historical significance will indeed come true.

Gesture according to Webster dictionary is "something said or done by way of formality or courtesy, as a symbol or token, or for its effect on the attitudes of others"
This Gesture by Saudi Clerics I believe is one of the most important gestures in the middle east in the last 75 years between Israel and its neighbors.
Winds of change are truly blowing throughout the Middle East. Remember this moment in time as gestures like this one that get a small headline - sometimes lead to ground breaking historic changes.
Here's the link to the article and the article itself:

In first, senior Saudi clerics to visit Auschwitz

Mohammed al-Issa, head of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, to head a delegation of Muslim religious leaders from over 24 countries to the Nazi death camp. American Jewish Committee chief: This is the most senior delegation of Muslim religious leaders to visit Auschwitz ever.


 Another Amazing Review in Art Beats LA. Thanks  Kurt Gardner. ART BEATS LA REVIEW OF AMERICAN POT STORY: Slamdance Review: ‘American Pot St...