Brett Harvey’s body of work ranges from music videos to feature documentaries, the latter of which provide the focus for today’s interview. After the resounding success of his directorial debut on ‘The Union: The Business Behind Getting High’, fans clamoured for more. Thankfully, Brett and his team listened, and brought us another fantastic documentary in the form of ‘The Culture High’.

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Q. The Culture High focusses on a very provocative and prevalent social issue. Why did you choose to explore this topic?
A. Initially, I wasn’t interested in pursuing the topic of marijuana prohibition for a second time. I thought we had covered most areas in our first film ‘The Union: The Business Behind Getting High’. Then two elements changed the tide.  First was the overwhelming demand from fans of our first film to do a second instalment.  Second was the clear need for the public to have a better understanding of how various sectors of society are structured, and how those structures inevitably prop up and perpetuate such damaging ventures as the war on cannabis.  It seems to be an underlying issue that goes beyond the war on drugs.  Whether it’s the political realm, the pharmaceutical industry, law enforcement, or mainstream media, there is an ever growing disconnect from engaging evidence based policies. ‘The Culture High’ was a chance to step beyond marijuana prohibition and examine how these factors affect society’s ability to govern itself effectively.
Q. In the documentary, a wide range of respectable figures speak out in opposition of the existing prohibition laws. How did you go about gaining the support from these various politicians, scientists and law enforcement officers?
A. This is where having the ‘The Union’ under our belt came into play. The respect we had attained from the first film allowed us to garner trust from interviewees for the second one. Prospective contributors were able to see our approach on the topic and have a clear understanding of our intent and abilities as film makers.  The second element that was in our favour was word of mouth; each time we would complete an interview the interviewee would have suggestions of others that we should talk to. Things snowballed from there and before we knew it we had over 40 interviews.
Q. The Culture High also features an array of celebrities who advocate the lifting of prohibition laws, such as Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa. How valuable is this kind of popular culture support?
A. Pop culture support is critical these days, and to some extent always has been for as long as it’s been available. It’s one thing to have information in a film that people need to hear, it’s another thing all together to deliver that information in an engaging and entertaining way. You need both elements if you’re actually wanting people to give up their time to watch your film. Bringing attention to an issue comes in many forms, as does holding that attention once you have it.  One of the most effect forms of doing so is to communicate ideas through iconic figures in society who inspire, spark interest, or possess the ability to get information across in an effective way.
Q. Despite this amazing co-operation, on the other hand you must have faced a few difficulties in getting the documentary made. Did you come up against any opposition from those who are against the anti-prohibition movement? If so, how did you overcome this obstacle?
A. Opposition always exists when attempting to tackle a controversial issue.  These days it’s much easier to portray the opposition’s point of view, due to the vast amount of historical archiving and mass media clips now available online. Our first experiences with the opposing point of view came early on in filming for ‘The Union’. One of our producers was attempting to secure an interview with a high-ranking law enforcement individual. Apparently, this individual refused to do the interview because marijuana had been referred to as a ‘plant’ at some point during their initial conversation. He said “marijuana is not a plant, it’s a drug” and because the producer had referred to cannabis as a plant, that meant the producer was a left winger and would not be able to have the interview. The individual then went on to say that nobody else within that police force would be doing an interview for the same reason. It was bizarre for us, because early on we weren’t really exploring marijuana for legalization, we were more focussed on examining the underground market. We were still in the discovery process. But our antennae soon went up, signalling that something was really off here.
Q. Your documentary is obviously a very divisive project to present to the public. Do you think the controversy surrounding the film only serves to inspire more people to watch it and learn the truth?
A. It’s tough to say. There’s a portion of society that will instantly write the film off before understanding what it’s about, because their view of prohibition is heavily reinforced through their social structures. That’s something ‘The Culture High’ attempts to break down. We examine the idea of a “my team versus your team” mentality and reveal how it creates a tunnel vision. It’s logical to think that the controversial topic of marijuana prohibition would garner a massive audience but the problem is that we are now flooded with marijuana documentaries,TV programs and movies. This has actually turned a lot of people off the topic. That’s one of the reasons ‘The Culture High’ steps beyond marijuana prohibition to examine various sectors of society. The purpose was to bring some fresh perspective to the topic and keep people engaged in a very important social issue.
Q. During a more poignant section of the documentary, we meet young Jayden David and his father. What was going through your mind when you witnessed the very clear benefits of his medicinal marijuana use?
A. This isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed the medicinal benefits of marijuana first hand. In ‘The Union’, we met Greg Cooper, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and ataxia. In order to participate in the interview, Greg had to smoke cannabis in front of us, which let his body to relax and allowed the involuntary movements to subside. Right before our eyes his body settled and he was able to give answers in a calm and collected manner; it was stunning. In the case of the David family, there was a whole new example of undeniable medicinal benefits. Jayden’s father, Jason, had seen his family torn apart by Jayden’s illness and dependence on pharmaceutical drugs. Additionally he had documented the entire process. So for us to enter their lives at a point where they had finally found the medicine (CBD oil) that would bring them some peace was extraordinarily emotional. The story really deserves to have an entire documentary dedicated to it, as it is a shining example of how a father’s love for his child will conquer injustice at all odds. I am in awe of their strength.
Q. Do you think the prohibition laws will ever be lifted on a global scale?
A. As Steve Rolles states in the documentary, “the whole house of cards is already coming crumbling down”. Experimentation with “evidence based policy making” is starting to take place on a global scale. Uruguay, Portugal and an ever-growing numbers of states in America are charging forward. Suddenly regulating cannabis doesn’t seem like the boogie man story that we’ve all been led to believe it would be. Positive results are flooding in from around the world and it’s getting more difficult for governments to back up their claim that they are trying to protect you from harm by throwing you in a jail cell over your preference of a stimulant. That being said, marijuana prohibition is still ticking and it’s my guess that we haven’t seen the last of the punches to be thrown in its attempt at self-preservation.
Q. What would your advice be for anyone who wants, or even needs a legalized source of cannabis?
A. Educate yourself and proceed from there. Don’t get locked into tunnel vision, and always base your course of action on a reliable base of knowledge. Once you get to that place, share that information. Become active on social media, and build on what is already a growing movement towards sensible, evidence based policy. The key to the downfall of marijuana prohibition lies in our willingness to expose its faults and present a better option.
Q.What can we expect from your next project?
A. Our next project is headed in a very different direction.  Completing two lengthy documentaries on cannabis prohibition and the issues surrounding society’s handling of it, has really taken its toll on me and the team, both mentally and physically.  So, our next project is a feature length documentary called ‘Ice Guardians’, which journeys into the lives of those who perform the role of the ‘enforcer’ in the NHL.  After that… who knows where we go next!


If you found this interesting, head over to Twitter and find:
@theculturehigh     @BrettBKS     @AdamScoreG