If you’ve been paying any attention to the world of mushrooms, you’ll know that the humble fungus is having a renaissance of popularity at the moment. Fungi and mushrooms are popping up everywhere; plastic and oil eating species could be the answer to the 21st century scourge of capitalist excess, sales of health supplements such as lion’s mane, chaga and turkey tail are rocketing, and of course, psychedelic strains are driving revolutionary psychiatric treatments as well as powering another wave of self-discovery in psychonauts across the world.
A 2020 documentary exploring the mystery and wonder of Fungi has landed here in the UK. Narrated by Brie Larson and directed by Louie Schwartzberg, Fantastic Fungi explores the humble fungus in a depth yet to be presented to a mainstream audience. The heart of the documentary is the magnificence of fungi and mushrooms, delving deep into how the mycelium, the roots of these organisms, thread across our planet, feeding, aerating and enriching our soils, maintaining the fragile ecosystems we desperately need to hang on to today. It goes on to explore the new, novel uses of this unique species and how ultimately, they could help us save the world.
Fantastic Fungi is a documentary for mushroom novices and experts alike. Explaining in clarity how fungus support life on our planet, the film delves into some mystical concepts as well as some futuristic ones. Of course, it explores the historical and modern use of psilocybin containing mushrooms in depth, perhaps because this humble, naturally produce compound holds so much promise in solving some of our deepest personal problems. For those already familiar with this world, there are many familiar faces in the film, such as Paul Stamets and Michael Pollan.
Stamets features heavily, which could be levelled as a criticism, but it’s hard not to be captivated by a man so abundant with passion but with no formal training in mycology. His journey is both fascinating and inspiring. From a chance hero dose of psilocybin curing his lifelong stutter to creating novel and ecological uses of fungus to control pests without wider threats to the ecosystem, the narrative of Paul Stamets during the middle of the documentary shows that the professional world of mycology really is an open and welcoming community to anyone with a desire and hunger for exploration, something the film re-enforces when featuring the younger ‘rising stars’ in this world later on.
Whether you are new to the world of mushrooms or a keen enthusiast, this documentary film is an interesting and well-rounded watch, diverse enough in its exploration without going in too heavy on the deeper science, I was even surprised to learn a few new facts to springboard off into more research. Fantastic Fungi works well as both an easy to watch nature documentary and an important message that fungi might just help us save us from ourselves, if we let them.
Fantastic Fungi is currently streaming on Netflix and Apple TV in the UK and is available to rent from Amazon Prime