Canadian director Ron Mann's film, “Know Your Mushrooms,” one of a number of food-focused documentaries to come out this summer, finished its week-long run at the Downtown Independent last Friday–with only a handful of people in the audience. Guess his target demographic was out foraging.
The film follows myco-roadies Gary Lincoff and Larry Evans through four days of the Telluride Mushroom Festival. But really, the festival is just a backdrop, a place for the sub culture of drum-circling, butter-hating, conspiracy-theorizing mushroom enthusiasts, in which Lincoff and Evans are elite, to touch base with the real world.
Outside of the festival, the film pans and dissolves its way through the many uses of mushrooms, with fungi-centric trivia questions to punctuate the beginning of a new section and psilocybin-induced ramblings for atmospheric good measure.
As its title and consumer warning, “Don't go into the forest without this movie,” suggest, the film is a humorous but honest effort to educate people about wild mushrooms. Director Mann uses mainstream reference points like Mario Brothers-esque mushrooms and a soundtrack featuring the Flaming Lips to make the highly specialized counterculture more accessable to the main stream.
But the film's emphasis on being totally accessable to totally everyone is also its greatest fault. Discussions of the mushroom industry's alleged crusade against wild mushrooms and Terence McKenna's theories about the link between mushrooms and outer space are diluted for the sake of trippy cartoons. And tips for identifying poisonous mushrooms are quickly brushed over to make time for the footage of Evans playing Nintendo.
The most interesting and most useful sections of the film become footnotes in the immense scope of the extraneous material. Utimately, “Know Your Mushrooms” alienates its audiences by attempting to sell them on the food they already love, in all of its non-digital, earthy glory.