I am back with another documentary review! This time, I had the pleasure of watching ‘Fantastic Fungi’ (pronounced fun-jee, apparently), a documentary about the magical and rarely known world of mushrooms and how they can help save the world. I watched this documentary with my friend Arzum, without knowing what to expect. But let me tell you, I wasn’t expecting anything life-changing. Boy, I was wrong.
I’ll start this review off by mentioning the incredible cinematography. From the first second of the documentary, you are faced with an incredibly fast yet exciting portrayal of vivid colors. The nature shots are beautiful, eye opening and breathtaking. Simply, a treat for the eyes. The narration doesn’t disappoint either, starting with an alluring monologue:
“…We brought life to Earth. You can’t see us, but we flourish all around you. Everywhere, in everything. Even inside you, whether you believe in us or not(…) in darkness and in the light, we are oldest and youngest, largest and smallest. We are the wisdom of a billion years. We are creation, we are resurrection, condemnation, and regeneration. We are mushrooms.”
Within the first 4 minutes, you are already captivated by the storytelling and the bright visuals.
The documentary follows Paul Stamets, a not-so-amateur amateur mycologist with a few patents in his name, as he reflects back on how he found his love for fungi in his life, and how it gave him hope. He has a TED talk on the six ways mushrooms can save the world where he talks about the possibility of making natural pesticides from fungi, cleaning polluted soil and even treating various viruses. Throughout the documentary, his story drives the narrative, while incorporating interviews from other researchers and authors supporting his academic work claims.
So What’s This Hype About Mushrooms?
I learned so many interesting fungi-facts from this documentary. For example, not only are fungi a vital part of our lives, from the discovery of penicillin, to psychedelics, to beer, wine, and cheese, they are crucial for life to continue on Earth as well. Fungi are not animals, not vegetables either. In fact, they are an entirely different type of kingdom, one with 1.5 million species (that’s six times as many species than plants!). Funny enough, only 20 thousand of them have the stereotypical cap (🍄) that you think of when a mushroom pops into your head. That’s the fruit of fungi. The rest? It’s underground, growing a network of threads of branches, called mycelium, which has more networks than our brain has neural pathways.
With Mycelium, the fungus absorbs the nutrients from the things around it and grows stronger, branching everywhere. More importantly, it plays a central role in the cycle of life; (re)birth, growth, decay and rotting. And the cycle starts again, and again, all thanks to fungi. Using time-lapse photography and digital illustrations, director Louie Schwartzberg successfully managed to display the magic of this cycle of life.
The documentary talks about how Fungi can break down anything that is natural- that is hydrocarbon based. Meaning, fungi can be a really great step to tackle big environmental issues like oil spillages and pollution as these issues are caused by naturally produced components. Isn’t the potential prosperities eye opening? Makes you think why no one is talking about this.
Even though the network of Mycelium has huge potential, the very real problem of deforestation can put an end to this. This enormous network of mycelium exists below the surface, in forests. Trees can swap nutrients with each other using Mycelium as the passageway. Therefore, the entire ecosystem thrives. Deforestation implies that the network of Mycelium underneath, through which trees help feed each other and thrive together, would also disappear. We are failing to understand that any harm done to any component of the life cycle, ends up hurting us. So, it goes without saying that we should be conserving the ecological community with all of its diversity.
Even More Possibilities…
The documentary also talks about the medicinal use of mushrooms to treat depression, anxiety and even cancer, through psychedelic experiences. Although I don’t want to give out too much of the documentary, I’ll say that it is reported to be promising. Upon further research, I even found a SoundCloud account called Nanotopia dedicated to the sonic sounds that were obtained from fungi. Literally, melodies! It’s remarkable, go check it out.
Final verdict: I find this documentary a consciousness-shifting must-watch, much like David Attenborough’s ‘A Life on Our Planet’. All and all, this documentary made me feel hopeful for the future, as I am certainly excited about all the knowledge we will gain and all the possibilities the fungi kingdom will open up for us, as long as we continue to explore.
Next time you go on a walk, look down and spot some mushrooms. I mean I’m not saying eat the mushroom either, because don’t… just in case. If consumed, some of them can kill you. But remind yourself to think about how everything that co-exists in nature is connected somehow. We are a part of a delicate but perfectly well-functioning ecosystem and we take it for granted. We don’t treat it with the fragility it treats us. Yet, for our survival, fungi are crucial. That is something to think about.