Delving deep into the world of edible and medicinal fungus may not seem like the ideal concept for populist entertainment but then again, Toronto filmmaker Ron Mann has never really cared about chasing commercial trends.
Investigative pictures like Comic Book Confidential, Tales of the Rat Fink and Grass all bear the hallmark of Mann’s curiously creative, counter-culture aesthetic and his latest effort, the supremely entertaining Know Your Mushrooms — playing in Toronto next Friday — is no exception.
Mann’s rambling and lyrical love letter to toadstools of every persuasion ventures into the arcane wilds of the Telluride Mushroom Festival and is more fun(gi) than a bucketful of basidiomycota.
“The idea for the film came from a conversation I had with cult filmmaker Jim Jarmusch,” Mann reveals. “Jim was rattling off these crazy facts about mushrooms to me and how they sustain the planet. He suggested I visit Telluride to see what it was all about. I couldn’t resist.”
Upon reaching the annual Colorado spore celebration, Mann and his skeleton crew encountered a cavalcade of eccentric fungus fans who flock to the mushroom dense resort town every year to gather, define and, of course eat, as many mushrooms as they can get their mitts on.
“There’0s been a cultural and scientific fascination with mushrooms throughout history.” notes the filmmaker about his sanguinary subject. “They’re like these alien beings. But before I started this journey, other than putting them on my pizza, I had no idea about the wild varieties and the healing properties they have.”
The most compelling character in the film is Larry Evans, a wild eyed post-hippie who has devoted his entire life to the study of the mushroom. Often thought of as a kind of Indiana Jones of psilocybin, Evans becomes Mann’s protagonist, a tireless crusader for all things shroom. Like all of Mann’s celebrated films, Know Your Mushrooms is ultimately a personal piece of work, one that stems from a questing desire to examine alternative subcultures.
“I’m fascinated by following people who are dedicated to something,” he says. “And man, did I ever find them in Telluride.”