Film Review: Fantastic Fungi

by Louie SchwartzbergArea 23A
reviewed by Bilge Ebiri
Fantastic Fungi Film Poster

Filled with striking stop-motion photography, Louie Schwartzberg’s documentary is a dreamy, informative, and hopeful dive into the world of mushrooms and fungi, making a case for their importance in the cycle of life and even suggesting that they may hold the secrets for our future survival. Numerous experts—from nutritionists to doctors to mushroom enthusiasts—are interviewed here, but the film’s main attraction is its lovely, mesmerizing sequences showing the growth of all sorts of eye-popping mushrooms and its depiction of the cycles of growth and decay.

The versatility of fungi is the film’s key thesis. Besides being important food sources, they are a central part of nature’s ability to rejuvenate itself. Because fungi help break down all sorts of substances, they can play a crucial role in the reduction of pollution; one interviewee talks about how effective they are at fighting oil spills. Meanwhile, the film makes a case that fungi are inherently intelligent, because they seek food and can defend themselves. And indeed, fungi may have a language all their own. Mycelium—the branching threads that help fungi grow and connect—effectively serve as a neural pathway underground between flora, through which plants demonstrate a capacity to communicate and recognize kin.

The science can be a bit complex—it’s a lot to take in, and interviewees breeze through some of this data with a facility that the viewer likely doesn’t possess—so you may find yourself walking away from Fantastic Fungi with more of a general sense of things than an actual understanding of them. But it would be hard not to be mesmerized by the stop-motion cinematography on display; director Schwartzberg is a pioneer in this form of filmmaking. Even those largely familiar with the color and diversity of fungal life will be astounded by some of the sights depicted here. 

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