The mushroom is blooming.
That’s the message from director Louie Schwartzberg’s poignant documentary Fantastic Fungi, currently enjoying a significant groundswell of interest in the U.S. and internationally. Showing this fall in over 90 theaters from Seattle to Jacksonville to Tel Aviv, the film is proving to be immensely enjoyable for a wide-ranging audience interested in the wonders of the mushroom.
Meandering its way through a remarkable visual storytelling of the fabled forest mutant, the film — narrated by actress Brie Larson — breaks down the benefits of mushrooms, as well as the astonishing fungal web present beneath the soil. Called mycelium, the synapse-like strands traveling under the fruiting body of mushrooms can run for miles creating subterranean circuit boards that help to restore ailing trees and transmit vital nutrients across vast stretches of forest floor.
Including interviews with experts ranging from Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and How to Change Your Mind), science and food writer Eugenia Bone, and renown mushroom specialist Paul Stamets, Fantastic Fungi describes a world where mushrooms are responsible for remediating contaminated soils, feeding local communities and rebuilding decimated forests.
It makes perfect sense that a film starring mushrooms is currently captivating audiences. Deployed in everything from the creation of durable alternative leather products to therapies that aid people with terminal diagnoses, the humble fungus is certainly ready for its closeup.
Varieties of mushrooms are now steadily showing up in the diets of health-conscious consumers and being farmed in greater numbers across America. Increasingly recognized as a sustainable food source, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) notes mushrooms are produced in over 33 U.S. states, are a regional food resource, and points out that a majority of mushroom farms are actually family owned. Their tendrils reach far beyond food, too, as mushroom farms are helping humans reduce waste. They act as “natural recyclers,” says the NCBI, “of byproducts from other agricultural sectors — including crushed corn cobs, cottonseed hulls, soybean hulls, peanut hulls, and cocoa shells — providing a useful solution for byproducts that previously posed waste management challenges for other agricultural operations.”
It turns out that mushrooms truly are magical.
Of course, a film about mushrooms wouldn’t be complete without also delving into varietals of psychedelic fungi, the most popular of which is psilocybin. One of the more riveting interviews in Fantastic Fungi is with mycologist Stamets, who has dedicated his life to studying mushrooms. He tells a heart-rending story about his challenges stuttering as a young man and one mind-blowing afternoon taking a whopping amount of psilocybin that completely changed his life.
The film comes in the wake of three major cities in the U.S. this year — Denver, Oakland and Chicago — each decriminalizing the use of entheogens, of which psilocybin is one. Not since Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970 has the use of fungi for therapeutic usage been legal for average Americans. Such use in clinical settings has proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and has aided patients with terminal diagnoses to better accept the harsh reality of their fates.
Fantastic Fungi shows that the utility of the mushroom goes far beyond a $95 sliver of black truffle over your pasta — it might just play a key role in salvaging humanity’s future acts. Currently ranked at a firm 100% audience approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com, Fantastic Fungi is a must see for anyone interested in life, death and the pursuit of the planet’s well-being.