Cannabis Pop-Ups and Parties Take Over TIFF
On the eve of legalization, Canadian brands are making a play for the festival’s international spotlight.
The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) presented a lopsided opportunity for Canada’s deep-pocketed licensed cannabis producers: One of the last chances to splash out in the limelight before strict marketing regulations kick in Oct. 17, but without a crumb or drop of actual product in sight.
With legalization five weeks away, several major LPs descended on the 11-day festival with pop-ups, parties and pot-free promotional loot to generate buzz for their recreational brands. With 340,000+ attendees and thousands of tourists streaming through the city’s downtown core, TIFF is a major opportunity to educate and grab consumers’ attention – and to get soon-to-be-legal brands in front of A-list celebrities.
TIFF official corporate sponsor Aurora hosted exclusive film premiere parties and networking events in its “House of Aurora” space in a cavernous former bank building in the financial district, while Aphria Inc.-owned Solei set up a public-facing bright yellow booth and outdoor lounge with information on Solei’s strains and its Health Canada-approved product packaging on display.
New Brunswick-based licensed producer OrganiGram managed to score face time with a number of high-profile celebrities, taking over the basement of the Thompson Hotel with a lounge dedicated to its recently launched premium brand Edison Cannabis Co. As a revolving door of actors, directors and producers (and their handlers) swept through the suite on their way to photos and interviews with celebrity new site The Wrap, Edison staff struck up conversations around Canada’s pending legalization, their experiences with cannabis, if and how they consume it, and the laws in their home countries.
Over three days, stars including Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, Christina Hendricks, Colin Farrell, Maria Bello, Christian Slater and Emilio Estevez stopped by the lounge, stocked with navy couches, gold accent tables and on-point Edison bulbs.
“Well, I live in Los Angeles…” was a common refrain from veterans of California’s legal medical and recreational market, paired with knowing smiles and half-joking inquiries about free cannabis samples (sadly, not this year).
Edison Reserve’s strains are named after classic Oscar-winning films including Casablanca, Rio Bravo, and City Lights, giving staff an in to ask visitors about their favourite films and what they would name their own cannabis strain.
American Woman director Jake Scott observed to Edison staff that hash is prevalent in his native U.K. and that high-quality flower is rarer in Europe, praising the impending Canadian recreational market for offering consumers flexibility and choice in products. He also recommended the 1987 British cult classic Withnail and I: “Watch it on a rainy day and roll one up.”
Giant Little Ones star Darren Mann said he uses cannabis as a tool to help prepare for roles and get into character, while actor Thomas Mann (unrelated to Darren) of The Land of Steady Habits said he would name a cannabis strain “The Conversation” – after the 1974 Francis Ford Coppola thriller – as he sees cannabis as a great tool for stimulating conversation between friends.
“I love Canada,” American Woman star Aaron Paul quipped as he checked out the Davinci MIQRO Vaporizer being gifted to guests. The sleek vaporizer piqued the interest of both tobacco and cannabis smokers, alongside an amusing amount of enthusiasm by some very famous people for the free swag: Arc’teryx backpacks stuffed with Edison-branded baseball caps and S’well bottles (celebrities: they’re just like us).
On the red carpet for the premiere of the political drama The Front Runner, a few stars indulged Lift & Co. in taking a break from promoting the film to share their thoughts on legalized cannabis.
“It’s going to relax a lot of people that need it,” composer Rob Simonsen joked. Simonsen, who is based in L.A. and has worked on several well-known films including Moneyball, (500) Days of Summer and Love, Simon, says cannabis can help provide relief from the high-stress entertainment industry.
“Since it’s been legalized [in California], the science has been a little bit more on point with discovering different compounds and creating products that are specifically for different purposes,” he says.
Montreal-born director Jason Reitman said he could see cannabis evolving past the stoner stereotype and taking on the Mad Men-like quality of a cocktail, and was also an incredibly good sport when facetiously asked what he would do if offered a (legal) joint by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Has anyone answered that question any differently? You’d take a hit, give him a hug, and hope you get a photo.”
Cannabis edibles and vape pens won’t be legal in Canada until late 2019, but that didn’t stop California-based Dosist, which makes pre-filled vape pens, from staging a 10-day educational pop-up and a private party DJ’d by Canadian duo Majid Jordan. Chronos Group’s COVE Cannabis set up shop in The Spoke Club, handing out samples and selling bars, edible blunts, and $80 dark chocolate bongs that mimic the flavours of – but don’t yet contain – COVE’s three cannabis strains.
TIFF 2018 truly marks the end of what CBC coined the cannabis industry’s “summer of schmooze.” Recreational cannabis will be legal for nearly a year by the next festival, but companies will be subject to tighter federal laws around how they can package, market, and promote their products, as well as the events they can sponsor – so don’t expect to see your favourite star tossing branded dime bags into crowds of fans. But with legal edibles and vaporizers on the horizon for next year, along with humanity’s universal appreciation for free giveaways, it’s likely cannabis brands will have a place at TIFF and other sponsor-laden festivals. Like Hollywood, they’ll just have to get creative with how they tell their stories.