The lights dimmed. The crowd quieted. A cloud of smoke is blown out from behind the curtains. Dan Savage arrived to tumultuous applause.
“Guys, I can’t, I’m so fucking high right now,” he laughed as he struggled to introduce the night’s program.
It was SPLIFF, a new stoner-centric film festival created by Savage, who also founded the amateur porn film festival Hump. During its inaugural tour of pothead cities, Portland had a doubleheader showing on April 20.
Savage, like the majority of the audience, had prepared accordingly (read: smoked weed) for the night, ready for the festivities ahead. Still laughing, he surveyed the crowd: “How many of you are high right now?” A deafening cheer from the audience was his response. One attendee even showed up in a skirt printed with cannabis leaves.
Sponsors of the event, such as Oregon’s Finest, had taken over the hallway of the building and were offering everything from free lighters and rolling papers to non-medicated samples of some of their most popular edibles. While most sponsors were dispensaries and edible companies, there were a few comedic outliers, like Clone-A-Willy, so you can make a mold of a dick out of silicone, and a watch company, so you can keep track of how long it’ll be until your edible kicks in.
Once Savage managed to finish his pre-show announcements, no time was wasted in rolling through the clips. First, though, an introductory video of smashed-together clips, a hodgepodge of audio and melting graphics that broadcast a clear message—“Shit’s about to get trippy.” Welcome to SPLIFF.
Said message was carried on into the first film of the night: N.O.P.E, a mid-‘90s PSA about the dangers of weed where a seventh-grader takes one puff and becomes a “crazy lunatic, a vicious murderer and a kinky sex pervert” during a kaleidoscopic montage of tits, Satan and literal ass clowns.
From there on, the short films—all under a time limit of 4:20—kept playing one after another. Audience members were encouraged to fill out a ballot to vote for the trippiest, stupidest and funniest films, as well as a Best in Show category. Certain films transcended those categories though, like Bloom, a luxuriously sensual celebration of the beauty of marijuana smoke, and Leaffolder House, the suspenseful tale of a dealer going to a cabin in the woods with production quality that rivaled a blockbuster horror film. Joint Heights was one of several stop-motion submissions, but it took the cake in terms of detail and effort, featuring joints doing everyday activities like yoga, fucking and rocking out to music on headphones.
In terms of funniest films, the audience was dying with laughter at The Girl Who Couldn’t…, a moving and somber short about a girl who couldn’t get high, and Kevin’s Proclamation, in which a man named Kevin repeatedly says “I love you, man!” and nothing else.
The range of content among the films was astounding, and it truly showed the definition of “stoner film” was far broader than anyone imagined. Some films were straight-up stupid, but the audience ate it all up. There were hilarious breaks from some of the more intense ones, like Leaffolder House or Corporate Coitus. Overall, there was a film that celebrated every aspect of stoner culture: munchies, paranoia, physical high, giggles and so on.
The vast majority of the films came from Seattle and Portland, with a few coming from other states like Pennsylvania and California, and the festival even featured international submissions from Germany, Belgium and Canada.
Here’s hoping that SPLIFF continues on for many years to come. As stoner entertainment evolves into modern times, it’s clear that something “dumb” is no longer the status quo for what people want to watch when they’re high. Stoners want comedy, drama, romance, sex, horror, aliens and avant-garde content, and SPLIFF delivered on all of it.
Maggie Lombard is a future theatre educator and current grocery store cashier. She has been published by the Portland State Vanguard and Neopets. You can find her online @calilombardi on twitter or in the park blocks, acting like a Disney princess to urban pests.