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Fungi: Web of Life Takes You on a Mesmerizing Adventure Beneath the Forest Floor
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Fungi: Web of Life Takes You on a Mesmerizing Adventure Beneath the Forest Floor

Shannon Ratliff
Shannon Ratliff
May 31, 2024
3 min

Fantastic Fungi reintroduced contemporary pop culture to fungi from the comfort of our homes in 2019, but Fungi: Web of Life has a different mission. It aims to soothe and stun. And on a giant screen, it does.

The 2023 documentary, which will continue showing around the world until 2025, highlights the work of Dr. Merlin Sheldrake, renowned mycologist and author of the ever-accessible Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures. The unfolding fungal world around us, now at eye-level, is truly magnificent in IMAX 3D. The film about the wood wide web is fit for all ages and all level of mushroom knowledge.

Follow British biologist Dr. Merlin Sheldrake from the famous Kew Gardens in London where the largest collection of fungi and fungi fossils is housed to the rainy old-growth forests of Tasmania off the coast of Australia to experience the kingdom of fungi’s grand symphony. Find it in theaters near you.


This is what set it apart for me from other mushroom documentaries.

The cosmos of mycelium

The most impactful part? You are entirely immersed in the world of mushrooms. They grow gargantuan in front of you in all shapes, sizes, and slime molds. The time-lapse photography of species growing from the leaf litter with their glossy, glistening caps is the new standard for nature cinematography.

You’re not just looking through a microscope - you are the microscope. We’ll be waiting a long time to see another documentary this gorgeous and poignant whose attention is focused on the forest floor.

Mushrooms may get the beauty shots, but the documentary highlights the importance and impact of the mycelium beneath our feet. We discuss mycelium a lot around here in relation to mushroom supplements, but rarely is mycelium given the visual stage to show its pulsating roots, especially in old-growth forests.

The thin strands of hyphae, five times thinner than a human hair, create worlds that look eerily similar to spider webs and the pastel and creamy energetic associations we see in photos of the Milky Way. In fact, Björk tells us that if we were to stretch out the mycelium flat across the Earth, it would cover roughly the same area as the Milky Way galaxy itself. Pretty magical, right?


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The accessibly poetic script

As someone who works with this material all day every day, our Queen Majesty Björk narrates a script that is delicate and complete. Frankly, I want to read the whole thing to let the poetry wash over me with its simplicity and clarity. Do you know how hard it is to elegantly explain hyphae and mycelium in less than 10 words? Now you don’t have to, just let her do it for you.

This is must-watch if you want to relax, it feels like a genuine spa session for your brain. Especially in the glow of the giant screen and the fungi coming at you from the sides, there is nothing to do but give in to the experience. I don’t usually love 3D movies, but this one changed my perspective on nature films in such a setting because it was so calm.


The universal call to action

As the story moved from London through Tasmania’s Tarkine Rainforest to the ancient wilds of China’s Yunan Province, I was grateful to see China represented positively in the scheme of fungi. Shiitake were first cultivated in China and mushroom growing is an ancestral art in many areas of the country, with Traditional Chinese Medicine relying heavily on mushrooms.

We owe our knowledge to centuries upon centuries of exploration and documented use throughout Asia. I hate to see Chinese mushrooms falsely represented in Western media. I’m privileged to have visited China with the first woman to have a USDA Organic mushroom farm as a guide to the historic home of shiitake, also her hometown. What I saw and experienced was a deep reverence for the earth, and once again, it is always an issue when even food becomes political.

No spoilers, but like most nature stories these days, be prepared for a little heartbreak when it comes to the destruction of forests around the world. It’s important for us to hear this because, as Susan Sontag writes in Regarding the Pain of Others:

“Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing ‘we’ can do — but who is that ‘we’? — and nothing ‘they’ can do either — and who are ‘they’ — then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic.”

May we not let our compassion wither to apathy. There is positivity in the fact that some fungal species have evolved to eat plastic, a worldwide issue that will only grow unless changes are adopted across all industries. The stark truth is that over 100 short years, humans have scarred the planet. Fungi promise us that the word “irrevocably” does not exist.

Of the many messages and takeaways from the fungal kingdom, perhaps that’s my favorite. Like wind, fungi are and will always be there, rooting themselves into the natural rhythm of things and making things happen, moving things into the next world or stage. Fungi are the true stewards of this planet, and it is them who walk us home.


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culture
Shannon Ratliff

Shannon Ratliff

Head of Content

Table Of Contents

1
The cosmos of mycelium
2
The accessibly poetic script
3
The universal call to action

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