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DIRT the Movie - Our future's in the soil
Last modified: 2010-04-02 03:10:12

It's interesting that, for the most part, as a civilization we have tended to ignore what was beneath our feet: dirt. We walk on it; we build on it; we move great quantities of it out of the way. We also grow crops in it-but even then, our understanding of it has been minimal, as witnessed by the fact that current industrial farming methods have depleted the soil of its life.

Producers/directors Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow are out to change all that with their remarkable documentary Dirt! The Movie-in very much the same way that their viewpoint was changed six years ago by reading a book they had been given. "One day a friend of ours handed us a book called Dirt: the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan," Gene Rosow told Organic Connections. "It was a look at the topic of soil, the dirt, that we'd never seen before. Logan observed it from every direction-from the point of view of health, science, spirituality, history, good story telling and good characters. After reading his book you never look at the ground beneath your feet the same way, and we thought if we could make a film that left audiences with a sense of that, it would be really interesting."

Dirt! The Movie brings this message across. From the opening scenes of the film, which point out that soil is comprised of the same elements as the stars, plants and animals and that "dirt is very much alive," the viewer gets the firm idea that dirt isn't just this stuff that collects in the corners of the garage; it is a living, breathing entity. Treat it right and we thrive. Disrupt it as we have done and we end up with what we now have: drought, climate change and famine.

The viewpoint is brought to us through an impressive roster of participants, including renowned chef Alice Waters, Andy Lipkis (founder of Tree People), Wes Jackson (founder and president of the Land Institute) and many more. Dr. Vandana Shiva, world-renowned scientist and environmental leader and founder of Navdanya ("nine crops"), a movement promoting diversity and use of native seeds, gives us this message: "For us, mud is not just the matrix of life in which we grow our plants; it's our building structure-it's our very sense of who we are."

Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, teaches us, "Clothe the earth; put on the skin, a dress-a green dress, like trees, like vegetation. And then, when the earth is covered with green, with vegetation, it looks very beautiful. And in this age of climate change, can you imagine how happy the planet would be?" John Todd, biologist and ecological designer and winner of the Buckminster Fuller 2008 Challenge, tells us, "Dirt is very much alive. It probably has in it and around it all of the kingdoms of life."

The directors purposely sought out participants from many corners of the globe. "Pretty early on in the production we realized that this is a global topic," said Rosow. "We really have to think about what's happening around the world-particularly when we're seeing that half of our produce is coming from some other country. We also wanted to make a film that was really positive, that showed another world is possible and that there are solutions to problems as they relate to soil, to dirt. Those solutions are happening across the planet, which sent us to seek out the most interesting people that we could find who were talking about these solutions."

The message has hit home. Right out of the can, the documentary was accepted for its world premier at the Sundance Film Festival. Shortly afterwards, one of the first public viewings of the film was in Salt Lake City for a group comprised of junior and senior high school students; and the producers were quite surprised as the students watched attentively and laid off texting the whole while, even hushing each other. After the viewing, the producers held what turned out to be a lengthy Q and A period. Dirt! The Movie has now gone on to great acclaim and audience reaction everywhere, and it is also scheduled to be broadcast on PBS during Earth Day week in April of this year.

Shortly after its release, interest in the film went global. "One day right after the Sundance Festival a woman called up and said, ‘I'm calling from the European Commission. Do you know what that is?'" Rosow related. "I told her I did, and she said she was calling about the film because they wanted to show it there. The general public knew nothing about the soil, and she asked if we would come over and show the movie to the people in the European Union who are writing the laws, because they're preparing a soil directive for all of Europe. We did that, and then they invited me back to show it by special invitation to the European Parliament. Their reaction was so positive that they've already translated it into French, Italian and Spanish, and now they're doing German. They want to use the film to organize awareness throughout Europe in a very active way."

Rosow sees the challenges ahead-but also the potentialities. "It's interesting that people are becoming aware of oceans and water and pesticides and food, but nobody thinks about soil," he said. "And even when you go to conservation organizations, national ones, with whom we are working in partnership to get the film out, there's not a sense of soil as the ultimate natural resource. Around the world we're seeing soil being degraded; it's not considered a living resource. At the same time, though, the potential for turning this around is starting with awareness; it starts with mapping of the soil-all of which is beginning to take place. It's starting with policy changes that say how we grow food is significant, not only in terms of what we eat but in terms of how we deal with climate change and quality of life in almost every other way."

Dirt! The Movie is now available on DVD. Buy it through the Organic Connections store.

For more information on the movie and to become involved, check out the film's website at www.dirtthemovie.org.




Keywords: Dirt The Movie, future, soil, Benenson, rosow,
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