DocuMondays – Dirt! The Movie

Dirt! The Movie (2009, dir. Bill Benenson, Gene Rosow, Eleonore Dailly)
Narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis

There’s is something about the smell of healthy soil that is unlike anything else. My father got his degree in wildlife biology and worked for the Illinois Department of Agriculture for many years so soil and gardening and nature were a big part of my early years, whether I liked it or not. As I have gotten older I’ve become interested in nature from a global perspective, particularly the way our agriculture has slowly shifted into the hands of a few private corporate interests and away from typical citizen run farms. This documentary focuses on the impact of these practices on our soil and where this practices will inevitably leads us. It doesn’t sound all too excitement but the style of the film’s presentation keeps your attention.

The film begins with metaphor of soil as a living skin to the earth and goes on to talk about the amount of living microbes in a handful of soil. The film can come across fairly dry at the beginning and sags in moments that feel a little lesson oriented. It’s saving grace are the well educated group of interviewees who come from all over the world and present well thought out and reasoned ideas about how to create more sustainable systems. I particularly enjoyed Vandana Shiva and Gary Vaynerchuck.

Shiva is an Indian physicist whose focus has been on fighting against the corporatization of genetics and push towards stronger bioethics. Her experience growing up in India has helped her see the plight of farmers who are forced into working the land as dictated by corporate agricultural firms. The result is that many farmers end up in debt and kill themselves as the land dies around them. She also emphasizes that cultures where women are moving out of a subservient, second class role and into a more active role in their local agriculture are proving themselves to be incredibly sustainable and productive environments. Vaynerchuck, the host of a internet series about wine, is able to provide a poetic look at soil and its intricacies. He talks in length about going to vineyards where he tastes the grapes and the soil to get a better sense of the wine produced there. He has a lot of enthusiasm on the subject which helps pull the audience in.

Dirt! is by no means the greatest documentary made and it does definitely feel didactic in some sections. However, it is a topic that, if given a chance, will pull people in and teach them a lot about the complexity of their environment. I found the portion on mountain top blasting my mining companies to be particularly relevant to situations here in Tennessee. I think its our responsibility as socially conscious human beings to be informed about these topics and ideas.