By Karen Henry
“The magical, mysterious and medicinal world of fungi has the power to heal, sustain and contribute to the regeneration of life on Earth that began 3.5 billion years ago.”
Louie Schwartzberg is known for decades of gorgeous time-lapse nature videography which he has employed as an award-winning cinematographer, director and producer. His latest documentary Fantastic Fungi does not disappoint, offering indescribably exquisite nature photography coupled with a message. That message: Mushrooms rule, they always have and always will. Majestic beauty frames every shot, accompanied by a narrative of fantastical fungi facts. We learn of the magnitude of fungi’s importance to our continued existence, as well as the potential healing properties of mushrooms not yet fully explored.
Just some of the fascinating facts imparted are in Fantastic Fungi:
-Fungi has existed since the beginning of earth, survived mass extinction, and may live on forever.
-Neither animal nor plant, fungi belongs to its own kingdom. There are 1.5 million species with 20,000 of them producing mushrooms in diverse colors and manifestations. The diversity of the fungi world is vast, with new species discovered on a daily basis.
-Fungi connects many living things through mycelium — their underground threads serving as a digestive track for the forest. Mycelium have electrical networks like computer networks and trees have been found to feed each other using mycelium as passageway.
-Mushrooms are the fruiting body of the fungi, spreading spores to replicate.
-Fungi is the main source of decomposition of living things; without fungi plant matter would choke the earth. Fungi can “support life, convert life, carry life.”
-Fungi has evolved alongside mankind; it is everywhere, in everything and inside of you. The film devotes some time to the psychedelic effects of mushrooms. Dennis McKenna came up with the “stoned ape” hypothesis in the 1970s. He theorized that primates and man have long consumed magic mushrooms which induced synesthesia – the ability to hear colors, see music. -Language may possibly be the result of this synesthesia.
Supplementing the graceful time-lapse photography are insights from such esteemed mushroom experts as authors Dr. Andrew Weil and Michael Pollan. Amateur mycologist Paul Stamets takes you through his years of experimenting with the potential uses of mushrooms, which he has turned into a viable business.
Famously, a moldy cantaloupe lead to the first hyper-producing strain of penicillin 1942. But, medical research on mycology ended in 1970 due to the negative public reaction to the psychedelic drug subculture. After decades, the FDA did a turnabout in 1999 and reactivated medical research. Recent studies have led to the exploration of myriad positive effects that mushrooms can have on our mental health, physical health and on the environment. Fungi has been shown to be effectively used as an insecticide, break down oil spills, treat Alzheimer’s, reduce anxiety in cancer patients. A subculture of amateur mycophiles has developed who frequently gather to share their discoveries.
Beyond the spectacular visuals, Fantastic Fungi is full of profound insights articulated through the narration that is wondrously voiced by Brie Larson. You learn that fungi “could be the community that heals the planet.” What better way to expand your mind to the possibilities of mushrooms than through this multi-sensory film?
Fantastic Fungi can be found in theaters now.