Saturday, December 13, 2008

Waiting to Inhale screens at the Centre for Contemporary Art in the Ujazdowski Castle

I have screened and discussed Waiting to Inhale at Landmark Theaters E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C., The Alamo Cinemas in Austin, Texas, at the Australian Film Festival and at many other venues across the world but this is the first time at a famous historic castle. The Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw Poland is now the Centre for Contemporary Art which features a variety of artistic endeavors including independent films like Waiting to Inhale. WATCH DOCS Film Festival, the Helsinki Foundation and the Open Society Institute turned out a full house for the film's premiere screening in Poland. Normally we do a Q & A or a panel discussion after a screening. This time I was interviewed by a highly regarded journalist who also fielded questions from the audience.

After 45 minutes of discussion a number of people in the audience joined Kasia, Alex, Marta and other Helsinki Foundation and Open Society staffers for more discussion, food and drinks at the nearby Blues Bar. It was a little for my guide and translator Marta and I to find it. The Blues Bar must have been built in a WWII bunker. It was in the park where the Ujazdowski castle is but it is underground.

They were holding me a seat in the center of the room so I could field more questions and discuss the film. After the second Q & A of the evening a group of marijuana activists interviewed me on video for their website. I hardly had time to enjoy the great pizza and local pils (beer) but I managed. Everyone was so supportive and enthusiastic about the film.

It was during the Q & A's that I began to realize that medical marijuana is a totally new concept in Poland. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs were not made illegal in Poland until 1992. According to my guides so called "bad drugs" did not exist during the Soviet occupation of Poland.

It is apparent that the Polish people have been heavily propagandized over the last 25 years. Most of the people are seriously uniformed about the difference between cannabis and drugs like heroin and cocaine. They are all lumped together. Now I understand why marijuana is considered such a taboo here. I was informed as soon I got here that no one smoked cannabis in public for fear of going immediately to jail.

Because of its isolation AIDS did not arrive here until the mid 1990's so people here missed out on my own experience, and that of many others who saw how cannabis helped people suffering from the Wasting Syndrome that killed so many AIDS patients prematurely. I want to find out whether people in countries other than the US, Canada and Great Britain know about AIDS, MS and other diseases that patients using cannabis can benefit.

The Elegant Pigs Knuckle

After arriving in Warsaw for Watch Docs, and a tour of the old city by my new friend Marta, I was invited to diner at a wonderful Polish restaurant across from the tower and castle where I photographed the city for my first blog in Poland. My hosts were Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director, Global Drug Policy Program, Open Society Institute at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, her husband Steich (sp) and Alex Kirby who coordinated my visit. And what great hosts they are. This is considered one of the best restaurants in Warsaw.

I wanted to taste the authentic cuisine of Warsaw. As I went through the menu, which was in Polish and English, I saw a lot of dishes that I had never seen before. I asked them Kasia what dishes she considered authentic Polish cuisine. She said I should try the Elegant Pigs Knuckle. I will try anything once and was I glad that I did. As you can see from the photo it was an incredible hunk of meat. It was also extremely tasty. Kasia, Steich, Alex and Marta all ordered the same dish which was a specially prepared duck confit. Duck confit is is normally my favorite dish but I am so glad that I had Elegant Pigs Knuckle.

We ordered wine and sparkling water and eat until we were stuffed. Steich turned me on to another authentic Polish We had shots of Wyborowa vodka. I had never drank vodka straight, much less in a shot glass. It was so smooth. It did not taste like any other vodka I have ever had.

After this incredible dining experience it was time to head to bed. I would wake up tomorrow on Polish time. In all my days of filming around the world the first thing I do is get on the local time zone. It worked. Now I am ready for my first screening tomorrow.

Friday, December 12, 2008

An Evening in Warsaw at Watch Docs

My first day in Warsaw started at 2PM after an all night flight from San Francisco. It was 5AM in San Francisco. I slept s much as I could on the 14 + hour flight. I am glad I did. Marta and Michael from Watch Docs picked me up at the WAW and escorted me to the Hotel Ibis where the filmmakers were staying. The hotel is next to the "Old City."

After shower I was ready to go out and see the city with Marta. Marta is a beautiful young woman in her last year at the university where she studies dance, photography and languages like Russian, Indian and English, which she is very fluent in. I was really lucky to have such a knowledgeable and pleasant guide to show me Warsaw for the first time.

The old city has many beautiful with beautiful old buildings filled with restaurants, antique stores and gift shops. The square is the original heart of the old city which still has one wall left standing from when it part of the castle fortress. The square was filled with vendors in little wooden stalls selling traditional foods and other items. If I could only bring back some of the traditional smoked meats, fish, cheeses and breads I would be a happy man. However, the last time I brought back food from Germany where I was screening my film Ishi, the Last Yahi I ended up with a customs dog's nose in my luggage at SFO.

We went up a steep and tiny corridor to the top of a watchtower and looked down on the city which was lit up for Christmas. It gave us a spectacular view of the city decorated for Christmas. You might notice in the background of the photo at the top of the page a tall building with a golden tower in the distance. Marta explained to me the that The Palace of Culture and Science was built by the Russians and given as a "gift" to the citizens of Poland from their occupiers.

The more we walked around the city the more I realized how little I knew about Poland, its culture and wonderful people.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the way to Poland to present Waiting to Inhale at Helsinki Foundation's Human Rights Film Festival December 12

The last time I posted I responded to a blog on The Huffington Post on Expat's response to Obama's election. Now I am headed to Warsaw and Lublin Poland for two screenings of my film Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law. The festival is sponsored by George Soros' Open Society Institute .

It is a great honor for Waiting to Inhale and for the filmmakers to be selected by such a prestigious festival to discuss the issues raised in the film, including human rights violations that are part of the US government's "war on drugs" against patients, care givers and their doctors. This will be the premiere of Waiting to Inhale in Poland.

Waiting to Inhale will also be part of the 7th WATCH DOCS Human Rights in Film Traveling Festival – Poland 2009.

WATCH DOCS staffers heard about Waiting to Inhale when Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance and Marsha Rosenberg, director emerita, Drug Policy Alliance San Francisco presented the film at the International Harm Reduction Film Festival in Barcelona last May.

For more information on Waiting to Inhale:

Follow Jed Riffe as he travels the world presenting and making social issue documentaries and interactive media:

at Jed Riffe's Blog

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Born In The U.S.A. - Expats Look Back

The election of Obama has certainly brought a sense of relief from the 8 years of the Bush administration to Americans in the US and abroad. However, if expats are moving back here and looking for work they will be shocked by the lack of job opportunities. The first thing we need in the US is a green jobs program that builds a new green infrastructure. A jobs program that employs the millions of America who need decent paying work and healthcare. A green jobs program would put solar panels on every home and commercial structure in the country. It would mean building community gardens so we could feed ourselves fresh, healthy foods without driving to the grocery store. We also need to invest in traditional infrastructure like roads, bridges and mass transit.

We need to push Obama and his advisers in these directions rather than let the Democratic party and lobbyists for big corporations dominate the discussion. Expats can be a major part of this force for change, from abroad as well as in the USA.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost