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New Jersey Film Festival Premieres amazing documentary The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World on Friday, September 28!


By Al Nigrin

originally published: 09/25/2018

New Jersey Film Festival Premieres amazing documentary The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World on Friday, September 28!

The New Jersey Film Festival Premieres the amazing documentary The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World on Friday, September 28!

Here is the interview I conducted with Annamaria Talaswho is one of the film’s director:

Nigrin:  Your incredibly beautiful documentary The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World tells an incredible story about fungi and how they made life on land possible. Please tell us more about your film and what motivated you to make it? 

Talas: Like most people, I didn't pay much attention to fungi, let alone thinking of making a film about them. But once I saw Australian photographer's, Steve Axford's amazing mushroom time-lapse images I became spellbound by their enigmatic beauty. Their diversity, vibrant colours, bizarre shapes made me curious. What was going on here? And as I started to dig into Google Scholar I became 'curiouser and curiouser'. 

When I began investigating this strange realm, it soon became apparent that there was a lot to reveal, as there was a huge gap in knowledge. Little did I realizethat I'd chosen such a fast-evolving field of research that I would need to rewrite the script several times beforethe shoot. Fungi are weird, largely overlooked, and still little studied, without institutes dedicated to fungal research and few scientists willing to devote their careers to revealing their many secrets. But slowly the story is being revealed.



 
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As with my previous films, it became a matter of bringing together different lines of research into acompelling narrative. I firmly believe that context and story-telling are essential to understanding. By unfolding the storyover a billion years of evolution, I focused on the fundamental role fungi have played in life on land. 

A one hour documentary is barely enough to go beyond the highlights but our hope is that this film puts fungi on our horizon and from now on, every time viewers look at a button mushroom in a grocery store they’ll see them in a very different way: they are the unlikely conductors of the symphony of life on land. I also hope, the evolutionary and ecological context illuminates just how carefully life on Earth is balanced and makes the audience aware of the dangers of human induced changes.

Nigrin:  How long did it take to make this film and how did you secure the funding for it?

Talas: The film took 3 years from the idea to final cut. With a little funding from Screen Australia me and my son – the main cinematographer – went for a 3 weeks development trip to the US and interviewed 30 scientists. I cut a trailer from the footage and presented at the World Congress of Science Producers in Vienna, 2015. I figured commissioning editors either get engaged and support the film or don’t. It was worth to try. Our first big supporter was Steve Burns from CuriosityStream who - on the spot - offered 100K. He is one of the most knowledgeable and iconic executive producer (former Vice President of Discovery Channel and National Geographic) and his commitment helped to convince other broadcasters that this is going to be an interesting film. Soon Swedish TV, ZDF/ARTE and CBC Canada came on board. 

Nigrin:  What has been the reaction from audiences to your film so far?  

Talas: I am yet to hear from someone who didn’t like it. The reaction from the press and the festivals were just amazing. We are finalists in 13 competitions and won one Best Film Award already. Amazingly all the featured scientists told me they learned things about fungi they never knew. It’s humbling and incredibly rewarding to be in the same league as Sir David Attenborough, competing in Life Sciences and Visuals categories at Jackson Hole Science Media Awards. 

Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to our readers?



 
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Talas: The most surprising and meaningful moment was the realization that without fungi, we wouldn't behere. The notion that in our increasingly warming world our mostly beneficial relationship withthese organisms could change, turning them from friends into foes. The idea that fungi represent a third mode of life: organisms that are networks. And as we say in the film, fungi represent both a dire threat and a tremendous opportunity to humanity. So, it’s well and truly time to get to know them.

The visual highlight of the film is Stephen Axford’s unique time-lapses that are produced in two sheds on his property in tropical Queensland, he jokingly calls his fungariums. In these sheds, Axford creates the perfect conditions for wild forest fungus to grow on wood brought in from outside.

The time-lapses can take anything from a few days to a month, and so require a controlled environment to produce. There are three individual time-lapse studio set ups in the sheds, where the fungus is placed in front of cameras, tracks and lighting, with backgrounds to mimic the forest.

A diverse range of cameras are used from Sony A7r II to various older canon cameras – which all have to be robust to survive the warm and consistently damp conditions that mushrooms love and need. Because the photographs can be taken at slow shutter speeds the lighting is very minimal – cheap LEDs – mounted to replicate the lighting in the forest.

The fungarium sheds have enabled Stephen Axford to record time-lapses on currently over 30 species of fungi and at the same time observe how they grows over many seasons.

Our next challenge was to match the beauty of these specialist images with the rest of our filming. For this it was vital to get on-the-ground in unique environments from lava-fields of Iceland to the deep forests of British Columbia. This is highly reliant on the seasons, so filming took place over a very extended period. We used the latest cameras from Blackmagic and Panasonic to ensure a rich colour depth.

Finally, we discovered some remarkable images from artists Tarek Mawad and Friedrich van Schoor. They spent months projection mapping video images in a forest, bringing magic onto plants, animals and fungi. Their project, called ‘The Bioluminescent Forest’ had just the aesthetic I was looking for: the beautiful mysteries of nature that remain hidden from us.  Just like fungi themselves.

Here is the trailer for The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World:  



Rodents Of Unusual Size will precede The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World . Here is more info on this screening:

The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World - Annamaria Talas (Newport, NSW, Australia)  The Kingdomtells an incredible story about fungi—organisms that made life on land possible. Neither plants nor animals, fungi represent a third mode of life and belong to their own kingdom.  By studying fungi in the context of evolution and natural history, scientists are making extraordinary, new discoveries about these life-forms. Some fungi may well save us, while others might threaten us, and we are just beginning to understand which is which.  2018; 53 min. 

Rodents Of Unusual Size - Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler & Jeff Springer (San Francisco, California)  Thomas Gonzales, a Louisiana fisherman, doesn't know what will hit him next. After decades of hurricanes and oil spills he faces a new threat: hordes of 20-pound swamp rats. Known as "nutria,” these invasive South American rodents breed faster than the roving squads of hunters can control them. And with their orange teeth and voracious appetite, they are eating up the coastal wetlands that protect Thomas and his town of Delacroix Island from hurricanes. In this documentary about nature thrown out of balance, and the impact of climate change, it comes down to man vs. rodent. 2018; 71 min.  Co-sponsored by the Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) Honors Program and the Rutgers University Cinema Studies Program!!



 
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Friday, September 28, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.


Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University


71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey


$12=General; $10=Students+Seniors; $9=Rutgers Film Co-op Friends


Information: (848) 932-8482; 
www.njfilmfest.com

 

 




Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.

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