The Merry Hempsters Hit the Road
Ron Mann and Woody Harrelson's 'Go Further'
Toronto-based documentary filmmaker Ron Mann was in the midst of a project on Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, the Cali car-culture king and granddaddy of the outlaw surf-and-hot-rod scene, when his old pal Woody Harrelson rang him up and invited him to tag along on an environmental whistle-stop bus trip from Seattle on down California's pristine Pacific Coast Highway in a hemp-fueled bus -- "The Organic Living Tour." That was in 2001. Two years later, Mann's digital video-shot doc Go Further is all but in the can ("I'm literally working 20-hour days to get it ready for the South by Southwest screening," he sighs).
Mann has been close friends with the actor/activist since Harrelson lent his voice to the narration of Mann's last project, the marijuana documentary Grass; with Mann in Canada and Harrelson in California (and, as often as not, in the news for pro-environmental-awareness stunts like his scaling of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge a few years back), the pair have kept in touch, and it was only natural for the actor to call his filmmaker pal to document the trip. What was supposed to take six weeks ("I thought it was time to get all my rock & roll road-trip fantasies out of my system now that I'm 44 years old," says Mann) ended up becoming a two-year labor of love on both their parts.
The resulting film is a look at Harrelson's ongoing campaign to raise environmental and organic awareness and trumpet the myriad uses of hemp -- as fuel, as a synthetic, and, of course, as a recreational drug and medicine -- combined with a manic road trip rivaling those of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and music by everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Phish.
The Chronicle spoke with Mann from his mixing bay in Toronto and figured out what it really takes to "go further."
Austin Chronicle: How's it going? You sound exhausted.
Ron Mann: I've mixed two reels so far, of five, and it's a race to get it finished by South by Southwest. I'll be seeing a married print on the 6th of March, but I have a long history of showing up at festivals with the reels still dripping wet. Editing never ends. You either run out of money or you run out of energy. And I run out of both.
AC: Let's talk about Go Further ...
RM: It's kind of like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test on tofu. We actually wound up on Ken Kesey's farm in Eugene, Ore., at one point and filmed the very last footage of him. He passed the torch, so to speak, to Woody, and they dubbed the bus "the Merry Hempsters." Kesey was the inspiration for Woody to take this bus trip in a hemp-fueled bus in the first place. It runs bio-diesel with fuel made out of hemp-seed oil --
AC: Is hemp fuel legal?
RM: I think so. I'm not sure. That's a good question. I know that food's where the DEA is really cracking down. There are more drugs on a dollar bill than there are in a granola bar that has hemp seeds in it. Don't get me started on the DEA!
AC: Speaking of which, what do you think of those recent anti-drug television ads that compare casual pot use to the support of terrorists?
RM: It's a cycle. The government needs to create a fear to justify the $7 billion they spend annually on this failed war on marijuana smokers. And what better way than to use this propaganda, which has always been the cornerstone of drug policy. They use these myths to link fears that people have about pot use. It's certainly nothing new.
AC: Do you think Go Further can have some sort of positive impact on its audiences, or is that hoping for too much? Can a film, or any form of art, really effect real change in the world at large?
RM: Well, that's what it's all about, getting people informed and engaged in a more sustainable lifestyle. The point of this movie is that the transformation of the planet begins with each and every one of us. We all make a difference. It's about each person contributing to large-scale transformational change. It's about living a socially responsible life. It's about conscious consumer choice. At the very beginning of our odyssey I asked Wood if there was any one thing he wanted to communicate to the audience, and he said, "Hope."