I open my fridge and see a plastic container of beans that has found a nice little cranny in the back where it has been happily living. I do not know exactly how long said container has been back there but there is no question that it should be paying rent at this point. I pull it out only to see a familiar white fuzz. Those beans have long since been inedible to me but apparently, to a certain family of fungi, they are quite delicious.
Until recently, this would have filled me with disgust. I had my perceptions changed in the wake of a conversation with Louie Schwartzberg after viewing his new film: Fantastic Fungi. This exploration into the world of all things fungal proved to be eye opening on multiple levels.
Louie Schwarzburg’s career has been fueled by the desire to make the unseen seen. He has been a pioneer in photography specializing in time-lapse and, quite literally, has been shooting non-stop for over three decades. Because of this he has been able to show the process of life in ways never before experienced. After hearing a presentation by mycologist Paul Stamets 13-years ago, the seeds were planted for Fantastic Fungi, a film that would delve, again quite literally, deeper into the world of fungi than has ever been experienced.
Fantastic Fungi, narrated by Brie Larson, approaches it subject from multiple angles. It addresses common misconceptions about fungi, illustrates it’s importance in every biome (including the human body), explores the history and benefits of hallucinogenic mushrooms, and even looks at some potential biological solutions to global problems. But, at the center of it all, It reveals the the mysteries of the mycelium network. This is the filament-like structure that, as Louie puts it: “creates connections between plants and trees that enable ecosystems to flourish as symbiotic communities.”
The mycelium network, I learned, functions in mechanism much in the same way as the internet. Its tendrils can connect trees well beyond their individual roots systems and allow them to communicate and share resources. It also represents one of the core concepts of Fantastic Fungi. We, as humanity, need to work in concert with our environment. Often the solutions to our problems have been provided in nature. Louie states: “We can’t be arrogant. We have separated ourselves from the connection between cycles of life.” He expounds that the mycelium network functions well as a metaphor for life, with its symbiosis and connection.
One such example is discussed in the film. An oil spill is seeded with spores which proceed to digest the oil and form their own new biome. These are techniques still in their nascent stages but the potential they represent could bring forth a new set of technologies meant to combat global climate change. Another example shown is using the mycelium network to help immunize bees against colony collapse disorder.
All of the grand concepts in Fantastic Fungi are punctuated with gorgeous time-lapse photography. We see the growth of mushrooms and fungi that truly are fantastic. They form in mesmerizing shapes and colors. They range from the mundane to the otherworldly. I would recommend seeing this film on the big screen so you can get the full effect into this rarely seen realm.
Louie, as a filmmaker, understands the medium’s ability to bend time and space. He wants to show you things you haven’t seen before and change your worldview. You are part of this network that, like the titular fungi, works best when in concert with the environment. For the runtime of Fantastic Fungi you will have your perceptions bent. And when you come out on the other side you might look at your world, refrigerators included, a bit differently.
Director: Louis Schwartzberg
Writer: Mark Monroe
Release Date: October 11, 2019
Image Credit: Bernard Spragg
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