The film started with the declaration that Earth is the only planet with a protective skin–dirt. So what, I thought. The significance of such a statement transcended my mental grasp, but by the end of the documentary Dirt! The Movie, I not only understood how unique our planet is for having dirt, but also how dirt is just as important to our existence as water and air.
I’ll totally admit that it is definitely a special type of person who willingly, and actually excitedly, sits through a movie on dirt. And while I wear the nerdy hat rather proudly, I even considered giving up what few cool points I have left for embracing this movie on soil. Yet, I figured that dirt is the foundation of food and I love food, so there had to be something that I could take from a documentary on dirt. There were a few foodie moments–such as a wine maker eating dirt as proof that only the most passionate wine connoisseurs can taste soil and link the taste with wine made from grapes that had grown in that soil. But, in my opinion, the best parts of the movie weren’t the foodie moments.
Like so many documentaries that lead me to spending countless hours clicking through the never-ending hyperlinks of interconnected Wikipedia pages, Dirt! was more than informative and engaging, it was sentimental, riveting at times, passionate, and accessible. I knew nothing about dirt, or about any relationships between dirt and justice. By the end of the movie, my mind was informed, my heart was filled, and my passions engendered. I don’t want to give everything away, so I’ll just highlight some prevalent themes.
1. Dirt is alive. I knew that there were living things in dirt, but I never thought of dirt itself as alive. The film makes a compelling argument that it is. Being a psychologist, I immediately thought of the psychological implications of attaching life to dirt. Would we clear it away to make room for cement playgrounds, if we knew that it was alive? Would we perceive it as disgusting if we knew it were alive? Would we tell children to get out of the dirt if we realized that life, our lives, breathe through dirt?
2. Dirt is being attacked and the endangerment of dirt creates disparities across the globe. This, too, was a complete surprise. How is dirt in the Midwest of the US linked to famine in Africa? How is dirt in Sudan fueling genocide? How is dirt related to national security? How is the removal of dirt in LA related to drought in India? How is destroying dirt via coal mining increasing world debt? How do monocultures inadvertently increase world hunger? How is dirt increasing India’s suicide rate? Watch the movie. All of these connections, and more, are made. In short, experts in the film link dirt to war, poverty, slums, over-dependence on loan economies, and the ultimate extinction of humans, if things do not change quickly.
3. Dirt as a means of building justice. Not surprisingly, in linking dirt to such widespread atrocities, filmmakers also linked dirt to social change and to justice. They discussed edible schoolyards, Instituto Terra in Minas Gerais Brazil, green roofs in the South Bronx, and efforts by Rikers Island to use dirt in ways that deconstruct the Prison Industrial Complex.
There were too many sound bites and moving one liners to mention them all here (plus, I’m sure I’m already bordering on copyright infringement…), so I’ll just end with this. One woman in the Rikers Island Greenhouse program stated, “Now that I’ve conquered my fear [of dirt], I’m not scared of what comes from it.” How powerful, I thought. We come from dirt. We are made of the same five elements as dirt. And yet so many of us judge dirt, shun dirt, shy away from dirt, fear dirt and that which lives in it. In judging, shunning, shying, and fearing dirt, do we really judge, shun, shy away from, and fear ourselves? Our true selves? Our true potentiality? To nourish the masses, to transform, to break molds, to touch the lives of those we may never ever meet? Just a thought.