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Watching Grass Grow

Making 'The Moneytree' was a long, strange trip

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RIGHT ON TIME The re-release of Christopher Dienstag's pot film comes as California cannabis laws are undergoing a sea change.
  • RIGHT ON TIME The re-release of Christopher Dienstag's pot film comes as California cannabis laws are undergoing a sea change.

Fairfax's Christopher Dienstag calls his film The Moneytree "30 years in the making." It played at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October 1991, after some six years of work. Back for a one-day screening April 23 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, the film depicts pot growing on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais.

Now that his film has awakened from its long sleep, Dienstag is launching a crowdfunding campaign to remaster and re-record the soundtrack into Dolby and add new tunes. He also plans to add narration to contextualize what he describes as "the Wild West days" of pot growing. The eventual plan is to share profits with the Cannabis Prisoners Project.

The audience will see the 35mm print Dienstag owns; he didn't even have a VHS of the film that he made with his father, now 86.

"My mom's in it, my grandpa's in it, and my old girlfriend's in it," Dienstag says. "My father and I agreed that a film like this had not been done before. If you make a film about a bank robber, you usually don't actually rob a bank. We broke the law before your very eyes."

The 25 years since the first screening of The Moneytree has seen a national change in opinion on marijuana. In 1991, distributors such as Warner Brothers and New Line worried about the legal ramifications of a film in which we watch the grass grow. The Moneytree was apparently jinxed in its cradle; Dienstag "four walled" (i.e., rented) a theater in Los Angeles to show the movie and lined up interviews with Peter Travers and Howard Stern. But the movie was pre-empted and the theater shuttered during the Rodney King riots.

Watching it now, audiences will enjoy the rebellious nature of the film, Dienstag says. "We learned to make the film as we went along, and it has a very endearing quality. I feel like the audience for this film was born after it was made, and now they've grown up. Now it's time."

'The Moneytree' plays April 23 at 12:30pm at the Christopher B. Smith Film Center 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.1222.

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