Medical marijuana documentary nears completion
Aspiring filmmakers Charlie Hall and Bevin Bell-Hall approached the Santa Cruz-based Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana with the idea of a certain kind of documentary.
Five years later, the two have emerged with an entirely different kind of film.
The married team of filmmakers is preparing for the final stage toward the release of "WAMMovie," which they are submitting for inclusion in several film festivals including the Sundance Film Festival, its more maverick sister Slamdance, San Jose's Cinequest and the San Francisco Film Festival.
When the Halls first proposed their film idea to WAMM, the organization had recently been the target of a highly publicized federal raid that had put it and the city of Santa Cruz, which had supported WAMM in its struggle with the feds, in the national spotlight. Charlie Hall figured he'd make a film about the controversial legal and political issues surrounding medical marijuana.
Instead, "WAMMovie" is more a profile of what Hall considers WAMM's real work: guiding its members through end-of-life experiences and the vividly human issues of facing death.
"It's a personalized story," said Hall. "We don't attempt to make an argument for the use of medical marijuana."
The Halls were UC Santa Cruz students studying in France when they heard about the 2002 raids against WAMM, when the federal Drug Enforcement Administration shut down the group's operation of cultivating and processing marijuana for use by seriously ill patients, confiscating plants and arresting WAMM's co-founders Valerie and Mike Corral.
"I remember coming away from that very first interview with Valerie kind of frustrated," said Hall. "She didn't really want to talk much about fighting the federal government. She just wanted to talk about the people she was helping and the hardships they were going through."
As a result, "we completely shifted our focus," said Hall. In the end, "WAMMovie" came to be a profile of the collective's members, many of them now passed away, and their struggles to make their final days comfortable and emotionally satisfying.
"The people at WAMM have a way of grabbing your heart," said Bevin Bell-Hall. "You can meet someone close to death and actually see that they feel better and are more spiritually aware just because of what WAMM was doing for them."
The Halls had to work to gain the trust of WAMM and its patients, many of whom had had disappointing experiences with media members and would-be filmmakers before the Halls came along. In fact, they said, it took about two years before the subjects of the film lost their self-consciousness before the camera.
Mainly because of the federal raids and the reactions against them, WAMM has been largely seen in the public eye as a medical-marijuana advocacy group. The Halls say their film is meant to throw the focus back on the collective's real mission.
"They're really a hospice and care-taking group," said Bell-Hall.
The duo enlisted Santa Cruz-based journalist and musician John Malkin to compose and perform a sound track to the film. Now the focus is on fundraising to meet the entry fees for the various film festivals that, said the Halls, are important in establishing the film in the public mind.
"We've been greatly spiritually enriched by our experience at WAMM," said Bell-Hall. "But, at the same time, financially it's been really difficult."
By WALLACE BAINE
Posted: 12/08/2009 01:30:39 AM PST