Spliff Film Fest

Movies by stoners, for stoners

In the spirit of marijuana, the munchies and more, two brilliant Asian-American comedians and videographers created a very funny, award-winning short film titled Candy Sandwich, which the Spliff Film Festival awarded its prize for “funniest” entry. This week, the fest is back in its third edition and so are some of its favorite filmmakers.

Gabby La La, who lives in Oakland, and Sayuri, who lives in Portland, are the two boundary-breaking videographers who aren’t afraid to look ridiculous in front of the camera. Not surprisingly, their antics have prompted hysterical laughter from viewers. Sometimes, the videographers themselves can’t keep a straight face, though the camera demands they do.

During a phone conversation, Gabby stepped out from her on-screen role to talk about the current wave of hate crimes against Asian-Americans. “We stand in solidarity with our Asian-American brothers and sisters,” she tells me. “When we turn the camera on ourselves, we try to emphasize beauty, love and friendship.”

The genre of Candy Sandwich falls into is known as “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” or ASMR. It’s been described as “a relaxing meditative experience” that’s triggered by sounds and images.

Candy Sandwich works as a spoof on those deadly serious TV cooking shows, and also as a send-up of cannabis culture and stoners who can be so focused on what’s in front of them that they forget about the “real word.”

The Spliff Film Festival is the perfect home for Gabby’s and Sayuri’s masterpiece. After all, it bills itself as a place “where filmmakers, artists, animators, and stoners share original shorts that examine and/or celebrate cannabis and its liberating effects on our imaginations, appetites, libidos, and creative energies.”

BTW the word “Spliff” comes from Jamaica, the home of ganja, the rastafarians and reggae royals like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, notorious for “The Harder They Come the Harder they Fall.”

In Candy Sandwich, Gabby wears purple hair and a black hat with a pompom. Sayuri wears long hair and a tie-dyed T-shirt. They both sport mustaches that look hand drawn.

Gabby says, “Eat a rainbow in every meal,” as though to mock the U.S. Department of Agriculture food guidelines. Then, the duo touts a multicolor candy sandwich as a model of fresh, natural and seasonal, though nothing could be farther from the truth. To top off the skit, they thank cultural icon, Betty Crocker, for sponsoring their show. I don’t want to give away the ending, though I’ll say it’s perfect.

For a couple of years, Gabby and Sayuri took time off to make quilts and babies. Now they’re back at it and in rare form again. At this year’s virtual festival, April 16–24, the duo have a new entry, Friendship Cake, which sounds like it could be appetizing. Friendship Cake won’t be screened until the start of the festival.

Gabby’s genius father, Owen Lang, has a short film titled, Bong Memories that will also be at Spliff this year. In a rare color photo with a bong, notepad and hat, he looks like a stoned artist. Born in Canton, China in 1947, the last of seven children, he came to the U.S. in 1953, studied at Harvard, became a landscape architect, worked on the planning and the design of Disneyland in France, and met and married a Jewish woman from Brooklyn. Indeed, Gabby is part Jewish, part Chinese and a real Californian.

Now, at the age of 73, Owen is recreating himself for the era of Facebook and Instagram and learning from Gabby. “I’m a proud father,” he tells me on a Friday afternoon. “Gabby is the kind of daughter who keeps me young and creative with the juices flowing. I go to concerts with her and they card me!” That’s pretty funny.

Long ago, Owen enjoyed bong hits, and what’s more, remembers them. “I’d get stoned and design stuff,” he says. “Bong hits helped me create the space between what’s invisible and what’s visible.”

“Has Gabby influenced you, or have you influenced her?” I ask.

“It’s a combination,” Owen replies. “She has taken after me and now I’m taking after her. You know, she’s multitalented: an artist and a musician who plays the sitar and the guitar, and she’s a mother, too. How’s that for a proud father and grandfather!”

For tickets to the Spliff Film Festival, visit bit.ly/splifffest.

Jonah Raskin has story credit on the marijuana-themed feature film Homegrown.

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