Louie Schwartzberg on Why He Made His Documentary 'Fantastic Fungi'

recommended image width: 1088px

After 40 years of filming, studying and advocating for nature, I still have one question I think about every day: If pollination is the foundation of life on our planet, what supports the very plants that are pollinated, giving them the power to convert light energy into food, fuel, medicine, and shelter?

The surface-level answer is soil (sorry for the pun). But that’s only the beginning of the truth. Let’s dig a little deeper. What turns solid rock and organic matter into soil? How does soil become rich with the nutrients that support all life on earth? The answer is the oldest, largest and toughest organism on the planet. It can feed us, heal us, clean up toxic waste and shift your consciousness. It is a form of intelligence living in the ground beneath us. It is Mycelium, the invisible network that is the root system for budding mushrooms.

I took a journey into an old-growth forest with my cameras and my good friend, mycologist and author Paul Stamets. He’s become our guide through a world of unexpected wonders as he shares his unique insights about the critical role of fungi in life on earth, and about the environmental solutions and medical advances fungi can provide to enhance life in the future. They’re the solution we’ve been seeking to help rejuvenate our bodies, regenerate our environment, and expand our consciousness.

This year, I'm teaming up with producer Lyn Lear, mycologist Paul Stamets, and Dr. Andrew Weil to create the feature film Fantastic Fungi, an important scientific exploration and visual journey to raise awareness about the vast healing potential of mycelium.

“Nature has been experimenting with fungi for a billion years, perfecting a lot of powerful survival tools,” says Stamets. “We can use these tools in fantastic ways—to revive damaged ecosystems, to offset global warming, and even to prevent diseases.”

Dr. Weil adds, “The uses for mushroom mycelium fill niches for which we don’t have anything in western pharmacology.” There are indigenous fungi within this ecosystem with extremely strong antiviral properties potentially mitigating pandemic flu or small pox viruses enhancing immune function or helping the body defend against cancer in ways that are not harmful.

“My mother was able to beat breast cancer—the worst case her doctor had ever seen - with the help of turkey tail mushrooms to support her chemotherapy,” says Stamets. “Engaging with mushroom mycelium can save thousands of lives.”

Mycelium can not only help us with our personal afflictions, but also the many ills plaguing the globe. With science and technology, mycelium can be key ingredients to the restoration of the environmental damage caused by industrial waste. By distributing the right nutrients to the right plants, mycelium helps to detoxify and recycle soil, optimizing nutritional density in our food supply. There’s even evidence that fungi-generated soils could absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, help control climate change, and reduce radiation.

Stamets explains, “We can capture industrial waste or farm waste, reduce its toxic effects on the environment, and grow food for people. Mycelium breaks down hydrocarbons, oil, petroleum products, herbicides, pesticides.”

Collectively, fungi is the largest living organism and the foundation of all life on earth—yet far too few appreciate its value simply because its story has not yet been told. In truth, we are only beginning to understand the powerful role mycelium plays in the ecosystem at large and how to create a symbiotic relationship with this organism. Mushroom mycelium is sacred medicine for our planet.

By producing this film independently, Fantastic Fungi can tell the story that needs to be told in a way that big studios can’t. It’s a film that can only be created from the front lines, from the doctors and scientists and artists who have learned the language of nature. Together, we can create the shift in consciousness needed to restore our planet.


Lead photo: