Ignite the Debate
Steve Collett, Dale Sky Jones, Steven Downing, Joe Rogoway; "Legalize Its" Richard Lee, Diane Goldstein - Photo by Dan Katzir

The lesson we learned from making ‘Legalize It’

by Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus

Exciting moments of change are always good news for everyone who cares about the relevant issue, and to the documentary filmmaker who’s following this issue. A moment like that just rocked the pot legalization movement in California and it is wonderful, yet also daunting to us as filmmakers. Let us explain:

Dale Sky Jones and Bill Maher

Bill Maher with “Legalize It” participant Dale Sky Jones, Chairwoman – The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. Photo by Sam Sabzezhar.

The biggest news is that California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to legalize Hemp production in California. The issue of Hemp is one of the most complex issues to date in the war against marijuana. Go to any Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods and you’ll find numerous items made with Hemp seeds that are imported from everywhere in the world, but sadly are still illegal to grow in the U.S. because Hemp is the plant from which marijuana is derived. The Hemp is the part of the plant that has no THC, therefore it has health benefits but no “high.” (BTW, the U.S. Air Force recently banned Chobani Greek Yogurt with Hemp because it might be illegal to give it to soldiers.)

The other big news for the movement was that Bill Maher hosted an event at his house for the stars of our documentary to announce their next legalization campaign. Many leaders of the national marijuana legalization movement showed up to pledge their support, as well as some celebrities and big wigs from both the entertainment industry and the medical marijuana industry.

We were invited to show our documentary Legalize It at Maher’s home theater as part of the event, even though it’s still a rough cut. It was a magical night. It was obvious to everyone that attended the event that much has changed in California since 2010 when the last initiative to legalize was on the ballot: Colorado and Washington have already fully legalized marijuana. A few more small states are expected to follow suit and legalize in the 2014 mid-term elections. This attests that the entire nation’s perception of the issue is evolving.

Ricki Lake, Dan Katzir & Ravit Markus

Ricki Lake, Dan Katzir & Ravit Markus

Following such a watershed moment is a coup for documentary filmmakers. However, it also makes this project the hardest we’ve ever worked on because every day brings another wave of change and therefore changes our documentary.

As documentary filmmakers we usually decide where the planned film will start and end before we start shooting. The end of the film might change based on the circumstances – but one always tries to limit the scope of the film – or else you’ll be filming forever.

But what happens when reality keeps changing on a daily basis as you are editing the film?

By now we have conducted quite a few test screenings of our work in progress – but it seems that every screening takes place amid a very different landscape of this issue. By the time we complete a new cut – the reality will probably change again and make everyone, including us, understand the reality of this issue in a different light … again … and again.

Maybe the lesson for us is that when you make a documentary about an issue that is a hot front page story – finish it really quickly in order to allow the audience to see a frozen moment in time that could illuminate the topic in the news.

Or … as we have chosen – realize it’s going to be a very long journey and have the patience to run the entire distance, no matter how long a marathon it is.

Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus

About Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus

An award-winning Israeli filmmaker, Dan Katzir's first film, Out for Love . . . Be Back Shortly, was narrated by Sacha Baron Cohen, and aired on multiple stations world-wide including the HBO network. He and his business and life partner Ravit Markus made together the critically acclaimed documentary Yiddish Theater: A Love Story. They are currently in post-production of a new film Legalize It, in collaboration with Willie Nelson's production company, Luck Films, and producer Lati Grobman. They will alternate writing this blog, updating from the road on their journey to release of this new documentary. To read more about their previous works go to: www.newlovefilms.com, to read more about their current venture and watch some clips from the film go to: legalizeitmovie.com or Facebook.com/legalizeitmovie. Follow them on Twitter: @Dankatzir and @legalizeitmovie.

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