Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas 2009

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. Many years ago my family in Dallas always celebrated it with friends and grand feasts prepared by my mother Mary. Mary loved Christmas and being with her family. This is first Christmas we will celebrate without her since she passed away in Dallas on February 5, 2009. I posted this picture of her when she was young because that is the way I will always remember her just a few (19) years older than me. I was about 24 when I took the photo you see.

Today Tina and I are blessed to be celebrating this special Christmas with our son Sean and grandson Parker who is now 15. We had a wonderful time in LA staying at the famous or at least notorious Sunset Marquee hotel and dining with our good friends Freddi and Trevor at Robert De Niro's AGO Restaurant. Back in Berkeley Tina is preparing a special Barbecue Christmas Eve dinner as requested by Parker...Ribs.

Last night I purchased a Magruder Prime Rib from Scott and the crew at the Cafe Rouge Meat Market for Tina and I to share Christmas evening after the boys leave for Dallas. After dinner we will watch John Huston's last great film The Dead. This wonderful little film always touches me deeply as I remember all of those who have passed away and that we miss so very, very much, especially at this time of the year.

We will also miss my Aunt Oleta who is still with us in Dallas being taken care of so well by my cousins. She is my late father Norman's older sister and the oldest remaining Riffe alive today.

We will drink a toast tonight to Oleta, Mary, my late sister's Candy and Cindy and all those who we love and cherish wherever they may be.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Waiting to Inhale" premiere in Cologne Germant at international science conference

The Dom Cathedral photo by Dan Dixon

I have come to Cologne Germany to present and discuss "Waiting to Inhale; Marijuana, Medicine and the Law" at the invitation of Franjo Grotenhermen,Executive Director of the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine. On Friday, October 2, I will be presenting and discussing the film and the latest research on medicinal cannabis with Dr. Donald Abrams, a renowned AIDS researcher and oncologist at the conference. Dr. Abrams' landmark clinical study "Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy: A randomized placebo-controlled trial" was the first clinical study the United States government has allowed in over thirty years. The study was published in the prestigious Journal of Neurology in February 2007, and featured in "Waiting to Inhale".

While I have been to France four times to film the oldest cave paintings on earth and screened my films in Poland, this is the first time I have been to Germany since US financier George Gunn and festival programmer Ulla Rapp invited me to show my film "Ishi, the Last Yahi" at the 1993 Munich International Film Festival. It was a real honor that the film won the Audience Award for Best American Independent film

Cologne (Koln) and Munich (Munchen) are very different cities and both are very friendly to Americans. Inside the old city of Munich you are whisked to another time and place. There are many beautiful old buildings inside the fortress like walls of the ancient city. I have not seen as many historic buildings in Cologne but I have seen the most beautiful cathedral in the world. It is called The Dom. Next to the central train station it is a mecca for tourists from all over the world.

I arrived in Cologne by train from Frankfurt at 7AM. I was fortunate to have arrived in Cologne so early in the morning as the Dom was empty of al tourists, only a handful of local churchgoers were in one small corner of the massive structure.

While I do not attend church services in the US my great uncle Arthur Bianchi taught me to appreciate the way cathedrals and churches are designed. He was a highly regarded architect who designed and built many of the finest churches in Dallas, Texas. He taught me drafting after I finished my twice weekly piano lessons taught by my great aunt Ervie "Burr" Denman Bianchi. Burr was a concert pianist who toured Europe with my grandmother Irene Denman Cowart at the turn of the century performing in piano concerts across the continent. Irene, Arthur and Burr were educated and traveled extensively in Europe. They gave me an appreciation for art and the finer things in life. I think that is one of the reasons I have traveled so extensively in Europe and enjoy the people and different cultures so much.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Southern Circuit Film Tour 2008 Revisited

Last year (2008) at this time I was in the middle of a ten city, five state, eleven day film tour across the south with Emiko Omori and my film "Ripe for Change." As I left on September 16 for the first stop on the tour in Auburn Alabama the financial collapse of the US and world financial markets was gaining strength as stock markets around the world collapsed.

Jed Riffe Manship Theater Baton Rouge, LA
Photo: Sharon Sharpe

Now I am glad that I was on the tour at the time all of this was happening. The great audiences, the wonderful hosts and the beautiful early fall scenery buoyed my spirit and kept me from me depressed about the economy.

Shortly after my return to Berkeley the full force of the economic "tsunami" hit home when Tina, my wife, true love,and personal professional chef was laid off her selling high end professional cooking appliances for the home.

I was waiting to hear from the Sundance Documentary Fund on whether an Audience Engagement grant to continue and expand the successful outreach campaign for my film "Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law" was funded or not.

I was just starting to collaborate with a major museum on a grant to plan and design seven interactive exhibits based on the success of Emrah Oral and my "Public Broadcasting in Public Places" interactive kiosks for the "California and the American Dream" series .

One year later Tina is still looking for work while she provides home-made, healthy free meals to two MS patients and my wonderful team of filmmakers including media fellow Jose Fernandes De Silva. Jose was awarded a fellowship from the Portuguese government to travel to America and work for me for six months. He and I have produced a number of great videos including a 28 minute tv commercial for taxing cannabis in California to alleviate the states budget deficit. The commercial was so successful that it was picked up on ABC's Sunday Evening News, Fox News, CBS Evening News and tons of affiliates .

I just received word that the Sundance Audience Engagement grant for "Waiting to Inhale" was partially funded, and that the museum and I were awarded the grant to design the interactive installations. In the meantime I have started a documentary film on food safety, bacteria and our immune systems, and begun development on the "Ishi" feature film.

I am still seeking funds for "Ripe for Change's" outreach campaign, and the balance need to implement the "Waiting to Inhale" campaign but I am blessed to have this bountiful plate of work to feast on.

Who knows where we will be at this time next year but the world looks a little brighter one year later.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Waiting to Inhale Banned at HIV AIDS Conference in Palm Springs

This is a first. After 135 screenings and discussions on four continents, and winning five important awards, Waiting to Inhale is NOT being screened and discussed at the Inland Empire HIV AIDS Conference.

I was on my way to screen Waiting to Inhale at the Inland Empire HIV AIDS Conference today in Riverside County. I got a call from Aaron Smith, California Organizer for the Marijuana Policy Project who was to be on a panel with me at 5PM today. He was just called by conference organizers and told that the event was canceled at the request of County officials.

Riverside County is one of a few counties in California that have been opposed to Proposition 215, and who have refused to implement California Senate Bill 420.

As Lanny Swerdlow, director of the THC Foundation Medical Clinic at 647 Main Street Riverside, CA 92501 explained on the phone there is a anti-drug foundation, The Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition , that works with a Dr. Paul Chabot , who have refused to accept the evidence of the NIDA DEA approved studies conducted by Dr. Donald Abrams at UCSF that cannabis provides relief to patients suffering from AIDS related neuropathy (see attached study from Journal of Neurology-exclusive footage from the study is featured in "Waiting to Inhale'), and other international studies of medical efficacy of cannabis for treating serious diseases such as MS, glaucoma and the effects of chemotherapy and radiation on cancer patients. I have been told by Lanny Swerdlow and Aaron Smith that this organization is associated with local law enforcement officials and the Riverside County supervisors. Their mission is to stop legitimate patients from legally obtaining cannabis under California Proposition 215 or Senate Bill 420.

This is the first time in 34 years of making and presenting social issue films that a screening and discussion has been canceled.

Swerdlow is setting up a free public screening tonight, Wed, March 11th at 7PM at the THC Foundation Medical Clinic at 647 Main Street Riverside, CA 92501. Aaron Smith and I will be there to present and discuss the film. However, this screening is 45 minutes away from the AIDS conference site, and many, if not all, of the conference attendees will find it hard to attend.

Ironically, this censorship by local public officials comes on the heels of U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder's statement on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 that ending federal medical marijuana raids "is now American policy."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Celebrating Mary Riffe's Life and Passing

My mother, Mary K. Cowart Riffe, passed away in Dallas on February 5, 2009. I got the news just as I was starting the Fall 2009 Film Tour. With a heavy heart I screened and discussed Waiting to Inhale to large crowds in San Diego, California and Salt Lake City, Utah. In a way these screenings and discussion forums about controversial and important public policy issues are partly due to her influence on me over my lifetime.

Mary was a journalist, but when she moved to East Dallas from Lake Highlands she moved back to the historic neighborhood where we were both born. I was still in San Francisco, California doing grass roots organizing followed by organic farming in Mendocino, California when Mary became an activist for community housing in East Dallas. I moved back to Dallas in 1975. This is when I produced my first PBS broadcast documentary Promise and Practice: Redlining in North America. I purchased a SONY AV 3400 Porta Pack, and she bought my first videocam tripod and the first box of reel to reel tapes. Mary was one of the three lead organizers focusing on fighting "redlining" and on housing and community development and preservation. Mary's work lead to her being one of the main characters featured in Promise and Practice.

As all my films are about social justice issues, over the years Mary enjoyed being at the premiere of each documentary, particularly the community screenings.

It's hard to let go of Mary. Her husband and my dad Norman Jerry Riffe, Jr. died in 1966 at the age of 42. I was already on my own, married to Susan Kreager, and working my way through college by managing the school newspapers and working for Bob Campbell & Associates. She became the matriarch and sole source of support for my brother Ken,sisters Candy and Cindy (deceased), and adopted brother Billy Jack Canada. Anyone that knows my family know the effect that my father's death and my mother's taking over the reins of the family had on all of us, both good and bad.

We are leaving for the memorial. We had cremated and are having a memorial today for her. I will write more later today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Winter 2009 Film Tour

Dr. Paul Gahlinger, author of Illegal Drugs, and Valerie Douroux, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, U of Utah

Tonight's the premiere screening of Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law at the Salt Lake Film Center in Utah.

I arrived on Sunday, February 15th. I was honored to be the guest at a really nice meet and greet potluck hosted Valerie Doroux, the lead SSDP organizer at the University of Utah. Over 30 people showed up for the potluck and informal discussion. The screening is part of the Film Center's War on Drug Policy Film Series.

Waiting to Inhale is the second in a series of four monthly screenings. The first was Tulia Texas, the third film will be Locked Down, and the last America's Drug War. This series of very strong films on drug policies in the US has never been screened together. This way the Center can build an audience over time. Great concept.

Jed Riffe and Dr. Paul Gahlinger being interviewed on Radioactive program on KRCL FM Salt Lake City.

Waiting to Inhale Screening in San Diego

The photo is of Aaron Smith, Marijuana Policy Project Coordinator for the State of California, and Rudy Reyes, a patient activist who was severely burned in the SOCAL fires two years ago on a panel with filmmaker Jed Riffe.

The screening and discussion in San Diego last Sunday was truly awesome, and I do not use that word very often. We packed over 200 cannabis activists and patients into a 180 seat theater at the City of San Diego's Central Library. I turned away another 10-15 people because the floors and doors were blocked with people sitting or standing.

The County of San Diego is refusing to comply with either Proposition 215 or with CA assembly Bill 420. They have collaborated with the DEA in closing down all of the cannabis dispensaries, and have refused to create a state patient ID card program.

Four of the twenty-seven people that were arrested this week in San Diego in a county wide sting operation came to the screening to share their stories.

A full page article debating the county's policies under state law and the medical efficacy of cannabis covered the front page of the San Diego Herald Tribune on Sunday. That followed an in depth interview with me on Channel 4 and its sister station (NBC) in San Diego.

Now its on to screen and discuss the film at the Salt Lake Film Center February 17th.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

2009 Year of Change

This is my first post since returning from Poland. I was invited by Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director, Global Drug Policy Program, Open Society Institute to screen and discuss "Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law"at Watch Docs. Watch Docs is sponsored by the Helsinki Foundation and the Open Society Institute. Everyone I met was so supportive. It was one of the best experiences in my film career. Photos from the Q&A session:

Since my return, I produced a proposal to develop seven individual interactive displays for a major museum in the US. I am currently in San Diego for a major screening and discussion of "Waiting to Inhale." San Diego County is refusing to follow state law AB420 and implement a Patient ID program. The County has lost three appeals of their lawsuit which attempts to overturn California Proposition 215 and AB420. This screening, like the one we did in Fresno last July is a direct challenge to the recalcitrant County Supervisors. It worked in Fresno. After a lot of hard work by local activists led by MPP organizer Aaron Smith, and a series of lawsuits by Americans for Safe Access, Fresno County voted to implement a Patient ID program in 2008.