Much like the ensemble cast of mushrooms, spores and fungal networks it celebrates, “Fantastic Fungi,” the documentary from Louie Schwartzberg now on Netflix, is not content to be any one thing. It branches out, mycelium-like, into nature documentary, psychedelic biopic, “Koyaanisqatsi”-like tone poem and sales pitch for alternative medicine.
But even if the film leaves few stones unturned in its story of the many ways human beings have depended on fungi over the centuries, there’s still more to discover. Here are four areas of the mushroom kingdom to explore before you dive in.
Paul Stamets never stops
Paul Stamets, mycologist, psychonaut and mushroom headgear enthusiast, is one of the most compelling subjects in “Fantastic Fungi.” Few others can claim the far-reaching experience Stamets has accrued in his life among the fungus. His book, “Mycelium Running,” remains one of the most enduring works of mushroom literature. If that’s not enough, his TED Talks are just as enlightening and enthusiastic, and his work inspired the sci-fi “spore drive” that powers the intergalactic travels of “Star Trek: Discovery.” And if you’re inspired by Stamets’ amadou hat, the mushroom felt cap worn by Transylvanian farmers, you can get your own here.
Michael Pollan has more to say
When Michael Pollan’s 2018 book “How to Change Your Mind” was published in 2018 to overwhelming praise, it represented a high point for the new psychedelic renaissance. Since then, the celebrated nature and food writer produced his own Netflix series on how food transforms our world, and this year published his new book “This Is Your Mind on Plants,” a series of essays that continues his illuminating investigation into the ways we culturally approach drugs and the natural world.
Consider the stoned ape
One of the most compelling (and controversial) theories “Fantastic Fungi” explores is the Stoned Ape theory, developed by brothers Terrence and Dennis McKenna, two of the most accomplished and prolific psychonauts to ever explore the astral plane. Their theory that neolithic man’s consumption of hallucinogenic fungi triggered an enormous evolutionary leap is both provocative and endlessly debated. Terrence McKenna’s book “Food of the Gods” charts some of the connections between psychoactive plants and human consciousness that Stamets and Pollan would arrive at only a decade later, making it an essential (and exciting) part of psychedelic history.
Mycoremediation, as discussed in “Fantastic Fungi,” is the use of fungi and chemicals derived from them to help repair damaged natural environments. Stamets has had success using oyster mushrooms to break down petroleum, and found that the fungi are even able to use the toxic chemical to grow. More work is being done to see how fungi can be used to clean up other contaminated environments, from nuclear fallout to pesticide leaks.
“Fantastic Fungi” is streaming now on Netflix, just in time for the psychedelic renaissance and to inspire a new generation of climate activists. Coming away from it, you’ll likely never look at fungi the same way again.