The mushroom boom is here.
It didn’t arrive as quickly, or with as much fanfare, as the Green Rush that followed the statewide legalization of cannabis in 2014. But it’s here.
“It’s certainly drafting off of the expanded awareness that cannabis brought to the market,” said Louie Schwartzberg, the Los Angeles-based director of a new documentary, “Fantastic Fungi,” which explores the world of mushrooms. That includes psilocybin mushrooms, a.k.a. the “magic” or psychedelic ones.
As the first city in the United States to decriminalize the possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms, Denver is taking early steps toward normalizing a drug that’s still federally illegal. But even as places like Oakland, Calif., follow our lead in making mushrooms the lowest law-enforcement priority, big questions still surround the benefits and risks of this powerful drug.
“Fantastic Fungi” is here to answer them. Some of them, anyway.
“I was ahead of the curve when I started this film 13 years ago,” said Schwartzberg, an award-winning director and cinematographer whose work includes the Netflix nature series “Moving Art.” “Who could have predicted that $17 million grant to Johns Hopkins University earlier this month? Or that cities in Colorado and California and Oregon would now be decriminalizing them? The timing is really, really good.”
Appropriately, “Fantastic Fungi” will have its world premiere at Denver’s Sie FilmCenter on Friday, Sept. 20, followed by a screening at the 40th anniversary Aspen Filmfest on Sept. 23, with Schwartzberg in attendance at both events. The decision to launch the film in Colorado was no fluke, as Schwarzberg, too, is drafting off the momentum of Denver’s progressive drug laws.
“I thought it would be cool to work with local groups in Denver that were the pioneers in this movement,” he said, noting that the Sept. 20 premiere is sponsored by Decriminalize Denver, the group that lobbied voters to approve I-301 in May.
Narrated by Oscar-winner Brie Larson, “Fantastic Fungi” covers more than just the growing medical and scientific interest in psilocybin, with dazzling imagery that takes viewers underground and inside earth’s fascinating mycelial networks. These fungal-bacteria structures can consist of a few spores, or miles upon miles of growth, but they all serve to decompose, connect and regenerate diverse plant and animal life across the planet.
It’s recently been the stuff of science fiction — see “Star Trek: Discovery’s” subspace “spore drive” — but research confirms nearly everything that Schwartzberg and his interview subjects assert in “Fungi,” from the ecological dreams of longtime mycologist Paul Stamets to the social and culinary interest of Eugenia Bone, a nature and food writer (and former Denver Post contributor) who sees a world of opportunity in mushrooms.
“There’s a huge subculture of mycophiles, of people who are fascinated with mushrooms,” she says in “Fungi.” “They hunt mushrooms together and they eat mushrooms together, and they’re sort of bloated pleasure-seekers with a scientific bent. Really, my kind of crowd.”