If you’re looking for a documentary that covers a plethora of subjects all tied together with the stuff that kids trek through our houses, then you have come to the right place. Those of us naturally interested in gardening already feel a strong connection to the soil, but many of us interact with dirt only to clean it off of our cars, our houses, our shoes, etc. Dirt, however, is a living organism full of billions of microorganisms and nutrients. This documentary is a beautiful ‘Ode to Dirt’ through the eyes of authors, photographers, a Nobel Laureate, a professor, entrepreneurs, and natural builders. Despite a few cheesy graphics in the introduction, Dirt! is an incredibly informative and ultimately hopeful documentary.
There are dozens of good documentaries out there about food, farming, and environmentalism, but this one stood out to me because of the wide variety of subjects it covers while still maintaining a solid and unified purpose. It starts with a discussion of different creation stories all with the premise that humans were created from dirt. We are dirt, we are what we eat; all those old adages are meant to remind us of our connection to the natural world. No matter how much we try, we cannot separate ourselves or our well-being from the world that surrounds us. Dirt! takes us through the world of soil and introduces us to people whose life work revolves around it. It draws you into a complex and luscious world that you cannot help but fall in love with. It reveals the many different directions one can go with caring for the soil: from farming, to teaching, to social work – dirt supports all of our lives. From here, I will warn you that like most documentaries about food or the environment, it takes a very heavy turn toward the middle. They draw connections to poverty and environmental degradation, discuss wars waged over healthy soil, and the effect that big agriculture has had on developing countries and their farmers. These are sobering truths to face, but there is value in being aware of what is happening in other countries. Fortunately, the documentary does not stop there; it takes the despair and degradation and turns it into hope. Wangari Maathai, founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, tells a poignant story of a hummingbird who attempts to put out a forest fire while all the other bigger animals just watch. “I may feel insignificant, but I certainly don’t want to stand by and watch as the world goes down the drain” she says, “I will be a hummingbird, I will do the best I can.”
The final section of the movie follows the amazing work that different people are doing to protect and heal the earth. They interview Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, who is committed to creating green roofs to cleanse the air and manage water runoff. Sustainable South Bronx also focuses on green-collar job training in order to alleviate poverty through environmental development. We get a glimpse into the Riker’s Island prison garden program called The Greenhouse Project that allows inmates to work in a garden, which provides better food for the prison as well as providing healing and rewarding work. We also get to explore the Instituto Terra, a nonprofit organization in Aimores, Brazil that was started by a couple that promotes biodiversity, restoration, environmental education, and sustainable development. These are just a few of the incredible organizations and entrepreneurs the documentary introduces. Its overall premise is that this world is beautiful and we have to tend to it. Despite the destruction we have already wrought, we can make a change. It does not have to be a huge movement that sweeps up a country, but small, intentional choices and movements toward a greater goal are incredibly powerful. If we all do something little, it makes a huge difference; we cannot sit around and wait for one person to do everything. This documentary does a fantastic job of inspiring, not inciting guilt. It reminds the viewer that there is always hope.
Dirt! The Movie can be found for free on hulu.com. There is also a showing and informal discussion on Friday, May 15 at Ramble Rill Farm in Hillsborough, NC. Check out this link for more information and directions.