Arts and Culture

Celebrate legalization with the Tokeasy DVD release party

While the impact that legalizing cannabis will have on Colorado life has been analyzed from economic, political and demographic standpoints, its influence on our creative community has received much less attention. With films like Tokeasy, however, that may be starting to change. Heretofore discreet stoners have been coming out of the woodwork and ganjapreneurs are emerging as the area's most significant patrons of the arts. While as little as ten years ago, an event like this Saturday's Tokeasy DVD release party would seem like a literal pipe dream, now it just seems like the most appropriate way to honor a film with a unique perspective on a transformative time in our history. See also: Keith Garcia and Theresa Mercado join forces for new film series Channel Z

Tokeasy may have the look and feel of a stoner movie classic, but it has more on its mind than most films from that most ignominious of sub-genres. Above all, the film is "a satire that parallels marijuana today to alcohol during Prohibition," says the film's co-director, writer and co-producer, Wally Wallace. That the film is finally coming to DVD (no easy feat for a local effort) is a testament to the herculean efforts of all involved; to celebrate those efforts, and to ring a note of victory at the defeat of the very prohibition Tokeasy satirizes, the cast, crew and fans will all be enjoying their freedom Saturday night at the Oriental Theater. The event, which is sponsored by Sexy Pizza and High Level Health, will feature performances from comedian Jordan Doll and DJ Deep Rawk, followed by a screening of the film.

Like many local filmmaking endeavors, Tokeasy began as a quixotic vision. "We didn't have any money or know many people in the local film community, but we had a big dream and decided that nothing was going to stop us," Wallace admits. "I first started developing the story back when there were only a handful of dispensaries in the entire state. Then I moved away for six months, and when I came back it was like there was a medical marijuana store on every corner. I knew right away that something historic was happening in Colorado, and if I ever wanted to make this movie, now was the time to do it." Wallace, who's also the promotions director of KGNU Community Radio, wrote the script for Tokeasy, but says it took a communal effort to make that idea a reality.

"Going into it, we knew a feature film would be a huge project, but still underestimated just how tough it would be," adds co-director and co-producer Sean Williams. "Fortunately, we had a fantastic local cast and crew that consisted of over 100 people, and everyone brought so much to the film, we really lucked out with that. There's no way we could have done it without them."

The story follows three friends -- one of whom is former narcotics officer -- who discover a secret growroom in the home of a deceased medical marijuana patient and decide to run a 1920s-style speakeasy from her house. WhileTokeasy is a comedy, as evidenced by shenanigans involving lustful spirits and racist police dogs, it's also a document of an interesting window of time when the legal gray area of medical marijuana fostered a "Wild West" ethos and voters weren't as sure about how a framework for legal cannabis would function. "We filmed Tokeasy back in 2011, before Amendment 64 had passed, and the months we spent filming were the most stressful of my life. For all we knew, the cops were going to bust into one of our shoots and shut the whole project down. It was a huge relief for us when November came around and legalization passed."

The film's subject matter created some hurdles. "Although marijuana is a hot topic, it's also a touchy one," Wallace says. "Back when we were looking for support to make this film, not many investors wanted to associate themselves with a weed movie." Even legalization proponents were less forthcoming than one might think, he adds: "People who had invested in medical marijuana were skeptical of supporting Tokeasy because we didn't turn a blind eye to some of the questionable practices that were going on in the medical marijuana industry at the time. Instead, we used those as examples of why marijuana shouldn't be illegal in the first place. Prohibiting marijuana made everyday people into criminals, just like it did when alcohol was prohibited. As soon as those laws went away, many of those 'criminals' become entrepreneurs, and I guarantee you we're going to see the same thing happen this time around."

The relationship between weed and movies is long and storied, even symbiotic: They make each other better. While making films in Colorado has always been a huge struggle for local dreamers, perhaps legal cannabis can bring some attention to the vibrant arts scene. DVD releases are a huge deal for independent filmmakers, a potent symbol of their accomplishments. For movies, a DVD is a higher form of being than mere files on an external hard drive. "We wanted the DVD release to be a celebration," Wallace concludes. "So, when it was announced that recreational marijuana shops would be opening in January, we decided that throwing the event around the same time would be a great way to celebrate both occasions simultaneously."

Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham