a/k/a Tommy Chong

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a/k/a Tommy Chong
Aka Tommy Chong.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Josh Gilbert
Produced by Josh Gilbert
Written by Josh Gilbert
Starring Tommy Chong
Eric Schlosser
Lou Adler
Bill Maher
Jay Leno
Cheech Marin
Distributed by Blue Chief Entertainment
Release dates June 14, 2006
Running time 78 min.
Language English

a/k/a Tommy Chong, written, produced, and directed by Josh Gilbert, is a documentary film that chronicles the Drug Enforcement Administration raid on comedian Tommy Chong's house and his subsequent jail sentence for trafficking in illegal drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to nine months in federal prison. DEA agents raided Chong's Pacific Palisades, California home on the morning of February 24, 2003. The raid was part of Operation Pipe Dreams and "Operation Headhunter," which resulted in raids on 100 homes and businesses nationwide that day and indictments of 55 individuals.

The film was shown at film festivals in 2005 and 2006 and had its first, art-house theatrical release on June 14, 2006 at the Film Forum in New York City. The movie features appearances by Bill Maher and Jay Leno, who express support for Chong and outrage over federal handling of the incident. Eric Schlosser, author of Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, provides "a much needed dollop of historical and political context".[1] The film was presented on the Showtime cable network on November 9, 2008.[2][3]

Synopsis[edit]

a/k/a Tommy Chong is a film depicting Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong and his legal problems with The Department of Justice. Filmmaker Josh Gilbert follows the tale of Chong as he becomes a target in a government sting, code named "Operation Pipe Dreams". Tommy Chong was the only defendant without a prior conviction to receive a jail sentence. The federal government stated that the reason that it sought this harsh punishment was because of the comedy movie Up In Smoke trivialized the government's anti-drug efforts.

The documentary discloses that Tommy Chong's son, who actually ran the company which sold the paraphernalia was never charged or indicted by the Federal government. In May 2008 federal agents raided the owner of the distribution rights to this DVD.

The documentary is critical of the prosecution of Chong by the U.S. federal government led by the U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania, Mary Beth Buchanan.

Production credits[edit]

  • Director – Josh Gilbert
  • Screenplay – Josh Gilbert
  • Producer – Josh Gilbert
  • Executive Producers – A. D. Sinha, Cheryl Chapman, Matt Stephens
  • Co-Producers – Will Becton, David Hausen, Brandie Knight
  • Co-Executive Producers – Jeffrey Gordon, John Mato, Jay Tobin
  • Associate Producers – Bonita DeWolf, Precious Chong
  • Cinematography – John Ennis, Josh Gilbert, Jonathan Schell, Tim Huber, Sean McCall, Melik
  • Editing – Will Becton, Howard Leder, Tom Walls Jr.
  • Sound – Sabrina Buchanek, Grant Johnson, Bruce Maddocks
  • Music – Oz Noy
  • Sound Supervisor – Michael Mancini[4]

Reception[edit]

Reviews[edit]

The film received positive reviews. Entertainment Weekly gave it a "B", calling it a "slender, revealing documentary, ... is a portrait of resilience: Chong does his time (nine months) and has the last laugh, emerging as a born-again activist-survivor of the culture wars."[5] In the New York Daily News, Elizabeth Weltzmen gave the film 2 1/2 stars (of 4), writing, "... even those unimpressed with [Cheech and Chong's] genially lowbrow work will be intrigued by the political tenor of this portrait." She continues, "Gilbert blatantly takes Chong's side, so your level of empathy will rise or fall depending on how strongly you connect with his subject."[6] Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe wrote, "This isn't a great piece of nonfiction filmmaking, but it has its moments", stating that Chong's presence in the film lent "a serene counterpoint to the farce Gilbert makes of the Justice Department...", but, "the movie does succeed in showing us the graying cult star as a gratuitous drug-war casualty".[7] At review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 71% among 21 selected critic reviews.[8]

Recognition[edit]

  • Official Selection – Toronto International Film Festival[9]
  • Official Selection – IDFA: International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
  • Official Selection – Palm Springs International Film Festival[10]
  • Official Selection – Miami International Film Festival[11]
  • Official Selection – SXSW Film Festival
  • Official Selection – Full Frame Documentary Festival
  • Winner, Best Documentary – HBO US Comedy Arts Festival[12]
  • Audience Award, Best Documentary – San Francisco Independent Film Festival
  • Audience Award Runner Up, Best International Film – Vancouver International Film Festival[13]

Seizure of DVDs[edit]

On May 7, 2008, federal agents raided Spectrum Labs as part of an investigation related to "drug masking products" used to fool drug tests. Chong alleges that 8,000 to 10,000 copies of his yet-to-be released documentary, which he claims were seized by the authorities, were the actual focal point of the raid. "It's a way to punish the distributor financially," Mr. Chong said. "There's no way to get the DVDs back until the investigation is over." However, attorneys for Spectrum Labs have said no copies of the documentary were seized. U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, who led the investigation, refused to comment on Mr. Chong's allegation.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dargis, Manohla (June 14, 2006). "A/K/A Tommy Chong, a Documentary About the Comedian and the Law". The New York Times. p. B5. Archived from the original on August 18, 2008. 
  2. ^ Anonymous (November 9, 2008). "The Watcher recommends". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. (subscription required)
  3. ^ According to the director, it was shown over 100 times as of September 5, 2010: Karassik, Neil (May 3, 2010). "Tommy, can you hear me". Eye Weekly (Toronto Star Newspapers). 
  4. ^ Murphy, Mekado (August 19, 2011). "Movie Reviews, Showtimes and Trailers – Movies". New York Times. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  5. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (June 14, 2006). "A/K/A Tommy Chong (2006)". Entertainment Weekly
  6. ^ Weitzman, Elizabeth (June 6, 2006). "Movie Reviews – Short Takes – Bong Show". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on November 14, 2006. 
  7. ^ Morris, Wesley (June 28, 2006). "a/k/a Tommy Chong Movie Review". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on May 10, 2007. 
  8. ^ A/K/A Tommy Chong at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. ^ "Toronto film fest unveils list of documentaries". CTV.ca (Canadian Press). August 11, 2005.
  10. ^ "Festival a blockbuster". The Desert Sun. January 16, 2006. (fee required).
  11. ^ "Miami International Film Festival". Sun-Sentinel. March 3, 2006]
  12. ^ "U.S. attorney not high on Chong movie". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. August 27, 2008.
  13. ^ "Press". a/k/a Tommy Chong website.
  14. ^ Ward, Paula Reed (May 11, 2008). "Buchanan picks new target: products that mask drug use". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

External links[edit]