Courtesy mushrooms

Any good documentary will leave its viewers not only educated, but with a desire to discuss and research the subject matter. 

Not all documentaries, however, are genuinely fun to watch. Often times, a documentary will be incredibly informative, but lack the enjoyment factor that will give it mainstream appeal. That’s perfectly fine, as not all subjects are light-hearted enough to be entertaining. But when a documentary does manage to intermix a sense of amusement with legitimately intriguing information, the result can be truly spectacular.

That is the exact case with “Fantastic Fungi,” a documentary that, as implied by the name, is entirely dedicated to informing audiences about the importance and effects of mushrooms.

Directed by Louie Schwartzberg, “Fantastic Fungi” is an incredibly educational and relentlessly fascinating documentary that manages to explore a surprising amount of mushroom material in its brief runtime. 

One would be forgiven for doubting how much legitimately interesting information exists concerning mushrooms and fungi — I certainly did. Mushrooms largely exist in the public consciousness as those weird things growing out of the ground that we put on our food. “Fantastic Fungi” shows that mushrooms are far more than a swiss cheese pairing; they can provide massive environmental and health benefits. Yet, many of these benefits are not being utilized because they stem from a field of science that needs and deserves more research.

The somewhat humorous and out-there tone of this documentary oddly feels similar to Netflix’s flat-earth documentary “Behind the Curve.” Except, in this case, everyone involved is educated and isn’t spewing nonsense. “Fantastic Fungi” highlights a community of people who have dedicated their lives to researching fungi and mushrooms, a field that is easily dismissed by the general public. This group of scientists consists of individuals from various backgrounds and degrees, but what brings them together is their strong passion for mycology, the study of fungi. This passion is apparent from start to finish in this film, which helps the audience develop an interest in this material and genuinely want to know more about it. 

“Fantastic Fungi” begins by focusing on fungi’s vital role in ecosystems around the world. The film details how fungi help decompose dead material while also contributing to the life of plants and animals. It showcases how various mushrooms and fungi do more than look strange — they also provide numerous ecological benefits to their ecosystems. It does all of this while spanning truly awe-inspiring visuals of natural landscapes and fungi that will be sure to please any fan of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” docuseries. 

As the documentary continues, it explores areas and topics that could be frowned upon by some audiences. Specifically, the film delves heavily into evolution, both humanity’s and fungi’s, and the effects of Psilocybin, a psychoactive chemical found in specific species of fungi better known as “magic mushrooms.”

While the film does delve into the use of Psilocybin as a psychedelic drug, the documentary mostly focuses on the medicinal benefits it could offer. It showcases how the mushroom could potentially be used as treatment for numerous diseases and disorders.

The biggest takeaway the film offers on this topic is that the more research that can be done on these medicinal benefits, the better. It encourages more research, not just on Psilocybin, but on mushrooms and fungi as a whole — as the results could potentially change the world of medicine. 

“Fantastic Fungi” is probably the most interesting documentary about mushrooms you’ll ever find. It’s intriguing, exciting, educational and certainly worth a watch. 

culture@dailynebraskan.com