Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reflections on Dirt! The Movie

In recent years, filmmakers of varying stripes have collectively released a spate of ecologically-minded films, including Food Inc., Fresh, Gasland, Blue Gold, Flow, The 11th Hour, and An Inconvenient Truth, to name only a few. This seeming plethora of films dealing with our looming global ecological crisis and its corollary, sustainability, led a journalist with Time Out: London to ask a rather pointed question: "can eco-films save the planet?"

Putting that question aside, and being the glutton for punishment that I sometimes can be, I sat down this evening to watch Dirt! The Movie, a film that, as the title suggests, is about soil. Given the tenor of similar films that I have viewed in recent months, I was expecting to once again experience two hours of familiar arguments regarding the industrial systems and institutional relationships that are slowly destroying our planet, one farm field and local economy at a time. I was also preparing for the emotional recovery I would need following said anticipated experience.

Dirt! did present arguments regarding how "our butts is in the ringer," to quote a friend of David Orr's, but only for a concise and pointed fifteen minutes. The remaining hour and five minutes of footage addressed human relationships to the soil, how to keep humans and the soil healthy, and what is being done to promote peace and responsible stewardship of our communities, land, and food.

The first half hour of the film is part microbiology lesson and part spiritual awakening, which is a combination of perspectives that I have found increasingly pleasant and enlivening in recent years. The argument presented, in short, is this: we, as humans, come from the soil, and the minerals in the soils came from the stars. Our relationship to the soil, therefore, connects us with ourselves, creation, and the cosmos. Furthermore, there is a proper balance to be struck in this relationship that has ensured, and might still ensure, the flourishing of life on this planet.

The majority of the last half of the film is a panorama of organizations and people who are striking that balance to foster better relationships between humans and the soil. The organizations include The Land Institute, Hearty Roots Community Farm, Cannard Farm, Navdanya Farm, Sustainable South Bronx, Tree People, The Edibile Schoolyard, Kinney Compost, Four Seasons Farm, and even some Harvard biology laboratories. Throughout this exploration of professional and community groups, there is a focused discussion of the principles that enrich the soil upon which life on earth depends. While enriching the soil, however, relationships between humans and the soil are strengthened, as are relationships between individuals and their communities.

I will close this post with an observation presented in the early minutes of Dirt!: in Hebrew, the name Adam means "dirt or clay," and Eve means "life." We are, in the words of a fellow biophile, "earth standing."