Actor Tommy Chong earns 'Lifetime Award' at film festival

By Katie McAuliffe
On October 19, 2012


This past weekend marked the 12th year of the New Hampshire Film Festival. It was the film festival's most successful year so far, drawing in around 10,000 film enthusiasts from all over the Northeast to downtown Portsmouth. The Festival used venues throughout downtown Portsmouth, including The Music Hall, The Music Hall Loft, the Seacoast Repertory Theater, and the historic Moffatt-Ladd House. 

The 10,000 festival attendees had access to a wide array of events, including film panels and workshops with industry insiders, question and answers sessions with directors, and after-parties hosted at some of Portsmouth's finest restaurants. 

The festival screened 102 films, presenting a colorful selection of genres including short films, documentaries and feature length films. These films represented filmmakers from more than 30 countries, according to Programming Director Nicole Galovski

One of the festival's honored guests was Tommy Chong, recipient of the 2012 New Hampshire Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award and writer, director, activist, actor, and Grammy Award winning musician, famous for his portrayal of the "far-out" character of Leo on Fox's "That '70s Show." 

Before Mathew McConaughey was "Dazed and Confused," or Harold met Kumar, or Seth Rogen was even in a movie, there was Cheech and Chong. 

Cheech Marin and Chong made up the original drug humor comedy team responsible for writing what is considered the "Holy Grail" of stoner films, "Up in Smoke." Released in 1978 by Paramount pictures, "Up in Smoke" was Cheech and Chong's first film. Bringing in over $100 million, it became the top grossing comedy of 1978.

According to the directors of the New Hampshire Film Festival, the lifetime achievement award is given to "an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to both the world of film and the New Hampshire Film Festival." 

Chong was presented his award at the film festival's opening ceremonies hosted by The Music Hall on Friday, Oct. 12. 

The New Hampshire Film Festival celebrated the life and career of Chong with a special screening of "Up in Smoke," followed by a brief question-and-answer session with Chong, at the Music Hall Loft on Saturday, Oct. 13.

"Up in Smoke," directed by Lou Adler, tells the story of two stoners who fortuitously meet when a guitar player, played by Marin, picks up a jobless, hitchhiking drummer, played by Chong. The duo, bonded by their love of music and pot, set out on a road trip across California in search of marijuana, while being pursued by a group of incompetent cops looking for their first big bust. 

After the screening, Chong talked with the audience about the process of writing and editing "Up in Smoke." Chong recounted the disastrous first screening of the film to executives. 

"It was so bad that Paramount didn't want to release it," Chong said. "When you do a bad screening, it's like being at a funeral and you're the casket."

Adler, Chong, and Cheech went back to work right after the screening. If they wanted to please the executives, they would have to find an alternative ending, which even Chong admitted was "the biggest rip-off for an audience that it could be." 

Chong commented that there was "nothing worse than saying it was all a dream." Although it had a less than promising first screening, "Up in Smoke" went on to be Paramount's most successful film in 1978, and became a counterculture cult classic that was a "big hit in drive-in theaters."

Chong was one of many celebrity guests who took part in the Portsmouth festivities this past weekend. Mike O'Malley, most famous for his role as Burt Hummel on Fox's hit series "Glee" and a UNH alum, also attended the festival in promotion of his film "Certainty," which made its New Hampshire debut on Thursday, Oct. 11 at the Music Hall. The New Hampshire Film Festival awarded O'Malley with the Van MacLeod award, an award given each festival to an outstanding member of the film industry. 

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