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Among the short films being screened this year by the Fort Myers Film Festival is CASHED, a dark comedy written and produced by and starring Charlotte County native Serena Ryen (Modern Day Jesus and Grave Mysteries (2017)).

CASHED follows a young woman by the name of Jess as she struggles to find peace (and pot) among the unique challenges of life as a Millennial in a super-expensive and mega-stressful urban setting like Brooklyn, New York. After a rare night off from work to celebrate her 25th birthday, Jess wakes up late the next morning suffocating under the burden of debt (in the form of crushing student loans that loom over every ATM withdrawal), regret (not only is job security a joke, but rent in the City is higher than anywhere else on the East Coast), and a desperate quest to take the edge off.

Notwithstanding the film’s title, don’t categorize CASHED as just another stoner-comedy. At it’s heart, the  film explores the deeper question of what drives us to “take the edge off” when we feel mentally and emotionally depleted – whether in the form of a glass (or bottle) of wine as soon as we hit the door at night, binging on chips or Netflix or, in the case of the film’s female anti-hero, cannabis.

“There may be an inclination to find humor in Jess’s desperate effort to scrape enough roaches together to roll a joint, but there is an overriding impulse to empathize with her life’s dilemma,” says Broadway World film critic Herbert Paine. “It’s this balance of emotion combined with raw realism that makes ‘CASHED’ such a fine and compelling film.” [Read the full Broadway World review here.]

The film is clearly targeted to Millennials. Many are contending with astronomical student loan debt, higher costs of living, unstable income and a hyper-competitive culture in which college degrees have diminished value because they’ve become the norm.

“Jess, the main character of the film, works her ass off and rarely ever gets a day off,” notes writer/producer Serena Ryen. “We wanted to explore how her financial reality affects her stress level and what she does to cope. If you’ve ever worked a job like waiting tables or walking dogs, if you’ve ever felt stretched beyond your emotional or financial means, and especially if you smoke pot, I think you’ll find her flight very relatable.”

For years, Ryen and her circle of friends have watched friends and relatives become burnt out by the incessant grind that surviving the Big City demands.

“And we noticed that everyone has that one thing – that one vice – that allows them to put their stressors aside and escape into a calmer headspace,” she amplifies about her motivation in making and starring in the film. “We sought to understand that impulse more deeply and to provide some much-needed catharsis for anyone who works multiple jobs and still has no spending money; who’s so strapped with student debt that they can’t breathe; anyone who just needs something to get them through the day.”

And in that regard, CASHED is also a polemic about the legal restrictions and societal stigma that attached to recreational pot usage.

“I think, to a certain degree, a fair amount of Jess’s problems stem from the fact that the one thing that helps calm her nerves is illegal,” Ryen expounded in her Babasket of Kisses interview. “If she could just go down to the corner store and buy a small amount of a low THC – high CBD strain from a licensed vendor, she’d be able to get the medicine she needs to quell her anxiety without putting herself at risk …. Millions of Americans prefer cannabis over Big Pharma for their medicinal needs and over alcohol and other drugs for recreation. For a lot of people, it would be a much safer option than prescription drugs if it weren’t for its illegality.”

CASHED is also a step in the direction of providing greater diversity and female protagonists in the industry, particularly in the genre of dark comedy. In addition to boasting of a female creator, Jewish director (Ethan Itzkow) and Latino cinematographer (Jorge Arzac), the production team was comprised of people of African American, Asian, South American, and European descent, and artists who’ve emigrated from five countries.

In addition to the favorable review by Broadway World, the film has garnered a number of awards, including Best Dramatic Short Film, Best Actress in a Film and Best Cinematography in a Dramatic Short Film by the 2018 Colorado International Cannabis & Hemp Film Festival, the Bronze Remi Award from the 2018 WorldFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival and was a semi-finalist at the International New York Film Festival last year. The film is also an official selection of the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival and the BLOW-UP Arthouse Film Festival in Chicago.

“Serena Ryan is hilarious, tragic, and just freaking mesmerizing — a bleary-eyed, kinda gross Disney princess — and you can’t help but want to spend more time with her,” writes reviewer Roberta Lipp for BaBasket of Kisses. “If you were to consider this a slice, CASHED feels like the first, not final, ten minutes of a film, and it’s a ride you’d happily take.”

Oh, and one more sign that the film is not only well-acted, smartly conceived and effectively executed, the title is an ingratiating example of word play. It not only signifies a pot bowl that has been completely exhausted, it is used in street vernacular to refer to the larger state of being emotionally depleted, bitch.

CASHED will screen in the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center as part of the Unforgettable Shorts block at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 13.


March 13, 2019,

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