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Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Shroom Boom- Louis Schwartzberg Photography and Cinematography

The End of Life is Just the Beginning A discussion with Cinematographer, Louis Schwartzberg.

“Beauty is our heart opener that will make us fall in love with the planet in order to protect it.” 

“The soul is a window into a living universe that makes us celebrate life.”

“If you go into nature’s wonders, you are in a temple that will open your heart instantly.” 

Louis Schwartzberg, a director, producer and cinematographer, has uttered these pearls of wisdom. He connects audiences to the intimate glimpses of his cinematography to a world we can experience in no other way. 

The stunning images that Schwartzberg creates through his cinematography and time-lapse photography are intimate, exquisite and transcendent. He reminds us of the essential nature of beauty, and the intrinsic beauty of nature. 

Schwartzberg is an evocative storyteller who immediately engages with audiences reminding us that beauty connects us to each other and the world around us. His work defies words. He artfully demonstrates the imperceptible beauty that unfolds around us, reminding each of us to embrace the world we live in with gratitude and wonder and awe.

“When people see my images, a lot of times they will say, ‘Oh my God.’ Have you ever wondered what that meant?” Schwartzberg says. “The ‘Oh’ means it caught your attention. It makes you present; it makes you mindful. The ‘My’ means it connects with something deep inside your soul. It creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard. And God, ‘God’ is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we are connected to a universe that celebrates life.”

Schwartzberg captures life through the power of his lens. He is recognized as a pioneer in high-end time-lapse photography and shares his discoveries in such a way, focusing on the connection between humans and the subtleties of nature and the environment.

“What is life? What is this universe made up of? Those are the big questions that intrigued me,” Schwartzberg said. “If I can see things from the point of view of a flower, imagine the insight that we have. By being able to see what a rose sees, you will be able to see what a hummingbird sees and understand a hummingbird’s point of view or a mountain’s point of view – it’s been here for millions of years. 

“[Through time-lapse photography] you get a glimpse of that. So that is a heart opener, I believe,” Schwartzberg continues. “And each step of the way, I’m asking again, that bigger question, ‘What is it that makes life work?’ I’m not doing it purely as an environmental message. I’m trying to make sure we don’t let this relationship unravel. It’s a beautiful story. It’s a love affair.”

Schwartzberg is an astute observer of the patterns of nature and likes to figure out how things work and asks, “Why?” One must wonder, where do these words of wisdom come from?

Schwartzberg grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors, and he says, they never really taught him about nature, but they did teach him a lot about gratitude. “I’m an environmentalist because I grew up in nature. My parents were Holocaust survivors and I’m against any form of genocide, or anything becoming extinct. Mother Earth, I want to protect her. This whole idea of appreciating the little things in life – that’s what I learned. That’s why I have a deep feeling about gratitude. And it’s the little things that make the world go around,” Schwartzberg said.

Schwartzberg graduated in the 1970s from UCLA Film School with an MFA. He chaired and served as executive director of the Action! Vote Coalition and served on the board of the Earth Communications Office and the Environmental Media Association. He is a member of both the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences. 

He created a series for Netflix called Moving Art encompassing six topics: Flowers, forests, oceans, deserts, underwater and waterfalls. The seventh topic is about mushrooms – “Fantastic Fungi,” which launched as a video-on-demand.  It has been number one on Apple, Amazon Prime and has appeared on Netflix this past summer. Schwartzberg took the film one step further and produced the Fungi Global Summit, which included a lineup of 50 leading experts and had over 160,000 people register for the event.

“I’m fascinated with unveiling the mystery of life. And so the films I make are part of the sense of wonder and all in curiosity. Before ‘Fantastic Fungi,’ I did ‘Wings of Life,’ which was about pollinators and narrated by Meryl Streep, being the voice of the flower” Schwartzberg explained. “It’s the intersection of the foundation of life. The plant world gives us healthy food, nuts, fruits and vegetables that we need to eat. But then you say, ‘Well, if that’s critical for our survival, what plants need is soil, and most people don’t understand where soil comes from.

“When I did the deeper dive into the world of fungi – because I knew some things about fungi, like bioremediation [which is the introduction of microorganisms or other forms of life to consume and break down environmental pollutants in order to clean up a polluted site],” he added. “I really didn’t understand that it could be the greatest natural solution to climate change and didn’t really quite understand that it makes soil and it breaks down organic matter – even rock – it’s amazing. You can talk to a lot of educated people and ask the most basic question, ‘Where does soil come from?’ And people don’t know the answer.”

“Bees and the microorganisms in the soil that make soil, are the foundation of life, ” Schwartzberg said. “It’s more important than the top of the food chain, which is where we are. If we go, that’s okay. If you lose soil, all plants go, all animals go. I don’t know what’s left of life on our planet. Think about it. If you lose the foundation to the house, you lose the whole thing. If you lose the roof, you could fix it.”

Schwartzberg discussed many of the topics that he learned from working with Dr. Andrew Weil and Paul Stamets on the film, “Fantastic Fungi.” From Dr. Weil, he learned about the Lion’s Mane mushroom and how it could be helpful treating Alzheimer’s. “There needs to be more research and more studies, but it definitely can be helpful in eliminating the amyloid plaque that builds up in the brain in people that have Alzheimer’s,” Schwartzberg stated. “With Stamets, there’s a lot. His story from cleaning up toxic oil spills with bioremediation and the [spectrum] of mushrooms – it’s pretty mind-blowing.”

Schwartzberg says he is fascinated by Suzanne Simard, a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia and the author of “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.” Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence. She has been hailed as a scientist who ‘conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound.’ Her work has influenced James Cameron’s depiction of the “Tree of Souls” in the movie Avatar. “I really, really was inspired by her because I understand her struggle as a woman trying to have this crazy idea about the mother tree and the resistance she got, especially in a male-dominated field called science, but especially in forestry, which is really all about cutting down trees. She is a champion – being really a courageous voice – when nobody would listen. She’s definitely at the top of my list.”

While Simard is on the top of Schwartzberg’s list, he, on the other hand, is on the top of many other people’s lists. Audiences have watched “Fantastic Fungi” numerous times, along with his other films. “There are so many levels to experience the film. There’s the beauty which is really nature’s secret language that turns you on, for life to go forward. But there’s also the science, and then there’s the storytelling. There’s so many different ways to engage. It’s hard to absorb all of it in one viewing. I’ve seen it hundreds of times, and I will admit that I will always learn something new, there’s always something to be discovered,” Schwartzberg said.

While the “Fantastic Fungi” continues to evolve with audiences, Schwartzberg is now working on a new film, “Gratitude Revealed,” which should be released this spring. It features excerpts from Deepak Chopra, Jack Kornfield, Lynn Twist and other experts; but mostly it is about wisdom from ordinary people. Discussed are the virtues found in gratitude about courage, compassion, patience, curiosity, creativity and connections. “Gratitude is the perfect antidote,” he said.

Schwartzberg’s films are evergreen and are a metaphor of life itself. He says that nature has invented reproduction as a mechanism for life to move forward. Reproduction is a life force that passes right through us and makes us a link in the evolution of life. “I want to be able to share that sense of wonder with the audience because I don’t know where I’m going to be going. I don’t know where the end is. And that’s life, correct?” Schwartzberg says. “It’s just to have that sense of joy – you’re on this journey – because, if you know the answer, then you’re just a tourist. You need to be a real traveler.”

For more information on Louis Schwartzberg and “The Fantastic Fungi,” visit fantasticfungi.com and movingart.com.

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