Fantastic Fungi Offers a Gateway Into the World of Magic Mushrooms

Mushroom expert Paul Stamets (left) with Fantastic Fungi director Louie Schwartzberg.
Mushroom expert Paul Stamets (left) with Fantastic Fungi director Louie Schwartzberg. Courtesy of Amanda Clement
In May, Denver became the first city in the United States to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. So it's fitting that the team behind Fantastic Fungi — a new documentary about the fungi kingdom and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms — chose to debut the film in the Mile High City.

"The timing is impeccable," says Louie Schwartzberg, the director of Fantastic Fungi, about holding the premiere on Friday, September 20, just months after decriminalization. Opening night includes a screening of the film and a panel discussion with Schwartzberg; Kevin Matthews, who led the decriminalization initiative; and a handful of other psilocybin experts and advocates.

Schwartzberg hopes his theatrical screenings will provoke conversations and action on the issue.

"The most important part is to reconnect with friends in the community and build community to build this movement," Schwartzberg says. "I kind of see this as we’re replaying a little bit of the late ’60s here, where we’re having a shift of consciousness happening and, at the same time, there’s a lot of oppression in the government. Maybe this is like the Woodstock event for our time."

In addition to being a movie for Denver's most avid mushroom proponents, the documentary serves as a compelling gateway into the world of fungi.

That said, the movie, filled with the gorgeous time-lapse cinematography on which Schwartzberg has built his reputation, comes off as two separate documentaries somewhat haphazardly spliced together: one about the fungi kingdom, and  the other about the politics of psilocybin. It introduces viewers to heavyweights in the mushroom world, including world-famous mycologist Paul Stamets and well-known author Michael Pollan, whose research into the world of psychedelics culminated in the book How to Change Your Mind.

"My hope is that anyone interested in learning more about mushrooms will come on this journey with us, see the film, and leave inspired to share about mushrooms and the possibility they hold for our shared future," says Matthews.

Fantastic Fungi premieres at 7 p.m. Friday, September 20, at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. More conversations with the director take place Saturday, September 21, and screenings of the film will run from September 22 to 26, followed by panel discussions with psilocybin experts. Find more information and tickets — $7 for Denver Film Society members and $12 for non-members — on the Denver Film Society website.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.