‘Fantastic Fungi’ review:
could mushrooms really save us?
A scene from the documentary, courtesy of Fantastic Fungi
Louis Schwartzberg’s 2019 documentary encourages us to take a closer look at the interconnected world of fungi in our everyday lives
Text Mirabella Shahidullah
In 2009, mycologist Paul Stamets gave a TED talk on the six ways mushrooms can save our lives. Ten years later, nature documentarian Louis Schwartzberg explores Stamets’ ideas within his eighty-minute documentary, aptly titled Fantastic Fungi. With Fantastic Fungi, Schwartzberg takes up the challenging task of showing viewers the powerful and all-encompassing roles that fungi play within every area of our lives, from being sources of nourishment and improving our health, to reshaping the entire framework of our ecosystems.
Schwartzberg succeeds in creating beautifully rendered close ups and time lapses of fungi sprouting from forest floors, which are sure to beguile viewer’s imaginations. When the screen isn’t filled with fungi we see fungi-lovers; intimate interviews with experts in the fields of neuroscience, environmentalism and of course mycology cite the many medicinal and scientific benefits of fungi.
Blending mysticism, science and humanity, the real star of the documentary is Paul Stamets himself, the self-taught mycologist who inspired the documentary’s many topics. Stamets delves into the healing properties of mushrooms and the study of mycoremediation, by referencing his own personal successes with fungi, from magic mushrooms curing his stutter to turkey tail mushrooms aiding the recovery of his mother’s breast cancer. Stamets’s clear passion for fungi gives viewers insight about endless powers of the specimens, from their anti-viral properties (in one startling scene, a press conference clip from President George Bush cites the study of fungi for preventing pandemics) to helping people with chronic and life-threatening disease and even mental illness, the world of fungi really is fantastical.
An eye-opening documentary for those curious about fungi, but perhaps missing out on providing finer tuned knowledge; the push to fit so much information and topical research makes the documentary’s eighty minute running time feel somewhat rushed.
Overall, Schwartzberg accomplishes a positive and uplifting documentary sure to enchant viewers. Accentuated with swirling visuals and mystical cinematography, Fantastic Fungi proposes the idea that the natural world perhaps has more to offer for our modern issues, if only we cared to use them.
Images courtesy of Fantastic Fungi and Paul Stamets’ Instagram. Originally released in 2019, Fantastic Funghi was released on Apple TV and Prime Video in November 2020 where it is available to view.