This is a fun little documentary. For some reason Know Your Mushrooms has a certain charm to it. I think it has something to do with the very apparent sincerity and down to earth nature appreciation demonstrated by many of the main figures in this film. When I first came upon Know Your Mushrooms I wasn’t sure if it tackled the topic of mushrooms from a biological/naturalist perspective, or the very popular hallucinogenic angle. Turns out, it’s both. It’s that hippie scientist charm that I think really makes this such a watchable documentary as viewers are introduced to the science and culture of mushrooms.
This film loosely follows the progress of the 2007 four day mushroom festival in Telluride, Colorado, with intervening commentary by “visionaries” Gary Lincoff and Larry Evans. We’re shown clips of wild mushroom hunts, public lectures, and home movies capturing images of foreign fungi deep in Bolivia. All in all, this movie does a good job of demonstrating why mushrooms are a very fascinating topic for study, from numerous points of view. The first half of the film loosing explains the basic biology behind fungi and how those little toadstools we see are truly just the tip of an underground ice berg with large complex root systems. The explanations of these basic concepts manage to really convey the speaker’s excitement, which is rather infectious.
The second half of this film delves more into the use of mushrooms for their hallucinogenic properties. We’re shown the Mesoamerican history of using hallucinogenic mushrooms in spiritual ceremonies juxtaposed with lectures from modern theorists like Terrance McKenna. I feel like any documentary that claims it’s going make you “know” about mushrooms would be remiss in neglecting psychedelic culture entirely and overall I think they present a lot of it in interesting ways. However, once again turning back to the question of being able to make a viewer “know” about mushrooms, it seems like over kill to dedicate an entire half of the film to that single aspect of such pervasive and important organisms. The biology of mushrooms, the opportunity they present as a source of forgeable food, and the possibility for further research into the medicinal properties of certain fungi is really fascinating. I think they could have spent a bit more focus here and with a better eye for the fallacies of anecdotal evidence and greater examples of empirical evidence. After all, if you want to play the scientific credence card, you have to play by our rules.
Basically, you should watch this documentary with an open mind and enjoy the many characters you get to meet. You don’t need to leave convinced that mushrooms can change your physical and spiritual life but you’ll probably come out of it with something cool even if it’s just a hippie induced smile.
Credit: Image by David Wagner
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