Dirt is alive and intelligent according to Dirt! The Movie. Bill Benenson, Gene Rosow and Eleonore Dailly direct this mind-opening documentary. Jamie Lee Curtis narrates.
The film is now available through Netflix, or you can buy the DVD.
Startling, funny and serious
You might wince when you see scientists and farmers pick up handfuls of dirt and breathe deeply. Gary Vaynerchuk, the host of Wine Library.TV, even tastes dirt when he visits world vineyards.
Rich, organic dirt produces incredible tasting wine, he says. Farmer Bob Cannard admires dirt’s “lovely mild, sweet aroma.”
A handful of dirt holds tens of billions of microorganisms interacting with one another, says Bill Logan, author of DIRT: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. “The idea that they’re just microorganisms, just stupid dirt, is stupid,” adds anthropologist Jeremy Narby.
“A war against the soil”
Humans take dirt for granted, but it took billions of years to form this matrix of life on Earth. In Olympia State National Park, mycologist Paul Stamets shows how mycelium, a “cob-webby growth that erupts into a mushroom,” decomposes wood and generates soil.
Modern practices like monoculture farming, clear cutting forests, and using pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer contribute to soil depletion, desertification and greenhouse gas emissions.
In the rush to create more farm land, grazing pastures and higher yields, humans lost sight of food’s nutritional value, taste and safety.
You can’t eat money
Dirt is made up of “the soils and sediments that are vital to keeping our biosphere healthy, which is all about keeping the plants and animals and ourselves alive,” says Harvard University biologist Peter Girguis.
The Dust Bowl is one example of what happens when we don’t work with Nature. “Desertification or land degradation is one good way of undermining security in any country,” says Maathai.
Wasteful and expensive ways
Mismanaging dirt is expensive, says Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople. “We’ve paved literally two-thirds of Los Angeles so that when it does rain, instead of being absorbed by the soil, the water runs off, and it’s billions and billions of gallons.” Meanwhile the city pays “close to $1 billion a year to bring in water from as far away as Wyoming and Utah.”
The Los Angeles River is encased in concrete. “Because we’ve sealed the dirt and sent the water away, 20% of our electricity is to bring the water here,” says the Los Angeles native.
Dirt inspires solutions
You’ll catch a rare glimpse of Navdanya Farm in Dehradun, India. Physicist and ecoactivist Vandana Shiva began Navdanya to preserve and share native seed. Challenging biotech giants, Navdanya has trained over 5 million farmers in food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture throughout India.
James Jiler directs GreenHouse, a horticultural job training program for Rikers Island inmates. Alice Waters helped launch The Edible Schoolyard Project. You’ll see asphalt removed and schoolyards reclaimed as kids plant, harvest and eat the vegetables they grow.
Diverse crops enrich the soil. “Whenever interacting with Nature, you’ve got to grow food for humanity, and at the same time you’ve got to grow food for Nature,” Cannard says.
“Why not plant a forest?”
One million trees have been planted on a preserve in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, thanks to documentary photojournalists Sebastiao and Lelia Salgado. They co-founded Instituto Terra in Aimores, Brazil.
Lelia delights in the birds that fill the new forest. The Institute provides environmental education, and promotes restoration and sustainable development.
“In all this land around this planet, if we started to replant – in 10 years there would be no more dead land,” says Sebastiao.
Agroecology recovers land
Pierre Rabhi introduced agroecology to Burkina Faso in 1981 at the request of the government. Productive farmland has replaced desert. The visionary environmentalist has brought agroecology projects to many countries.
“Ethiopia alone, if properly cultivated, could feed the entire African continent,” says Rabhi.
Honor dirt, respect the Earth
Maathai passed away in 2011, but The Green Belt Movement continues in Kenya and internationally.
Rabhi sums up: “At times I am Dirt’s father, because I take care of it. At times Dirt’s my mother because she feeds me. And at times Dirt’s my lover because we share a loving relationship.” (4 out of 5 stars)
Dirt! The Movie 2009 / NR / 1 hour, 20 min
Cast Overview: Bill Logan, Andy Lipkis, Vandana Shiva, Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai, Wes Jackson, Sebastiao Salgado, Lelia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, Paul Stamets, Miguel Altieri, Pierre Rabhi, David Orr, Bill Cannard, Majora Carter, James Jiler, Fritjof Capra, Peter Girguis, Alice Waters, Gary Vaynerchuk,
Directors: Bill Benenson, Gene Rosow Co-Director: Eleonore Dailly