'Super Fungi': Bergen Review

Courtesy of Bergen International Film Festival
Enjoyable naturalist doc celebrates the surprising uses of fungi.

Below our feet, they're taking over the world.

A more conventional but quite enjoyable cousin to the recent fest entry The Creeping Garden, Thomas Sipp and Anne Rizzo's Super Fungi finds that mushrooms are good for a whole lot more than topping pizzas and inspiring the desert hallucinations of Phish fans. Lessons learned from zillions of fungus species are being used for everything from designing telecommunications architecture to combating toxic waste, and this eye-pleasing film should help spread a sense of wonder at fests and on small screens.

Employing a plummy narration suggesting a young David Attenborough, the film sometimes brings a charming grandiloquence to the dry world of lab coats and Petri dishes: Thanks to scientists using fungi to develop new laundry soap ingredients, for instance, we learn that we have "made enzymes the epitome of domestic bliss."

Very detailed accounts of how fungi do their thing on a cellular level may grow briefly tiresome for less science-minded viewers, but the big-picture stuff can be nearly awe-inspiring: Trudging through a forest and digging up top layers of soil, we find huge networks of hairlike mycelium that can cover acres of land, connecting bits of decaying matter with many different kinds of plants for nutrient exchange. We see researchers in Africa using this ability in hopes of creating a Great Green Wall of trees that will combat desertification in the Sahara.

More unexpected is the ability of some species of fungus to digest the sludge found in old truck yards or the polyurethane waste of the industrial age. One question the film doesn't ask: If we train mushrooms to eat all the toxic garbage we've produced in the last hundred years, won't it have so much food it will become a globe-engulfing, hyper-intelligent life form and make human beings its slaves? Let us now welcome our future vegetative overlords.

Until that happens, Super Fungi offers a predictably wonderful assortment of macro-photography shots and time-lapse footage, observing a small slice of the variety found in this corner of the natural world (we're told that only around 15% of existing fungus species have been identified) while delighting in their eerily intelligent growth patterns.


Production company: Les Films d'Ici

Directors-Screenwriters: Thomas Sipp, Anne Rizzo

Producer: Serge Lalou

Directors of photography: Laurent Fenart, Jean-Marc La Rocca

Editor: Julie Pelat

Music: Mathieu Lamboley

Sales: Terranoa


No rating, 52 minutes