Thursday is Earth Day! 

PBS stations will air Dirt! The Movie tomorrow evening as part of the network’s Independent Lens series. (Please check your local listings for time.) 

Filmmakers show how 4 billion years of evolution have created the dirt that recycles our water, gives us our food, provides us with shelter, and serves as a source of medicine, beauty and culture. 

But as the 1-hour documentary demonstrates, mankind has become greedy and careless, endangering this vital living resource with destructive methods of agriculture, mining and urban development—and with catastrophic results: mass starvation, drought, floods and climate change. 

The film uncovers ways we can repair our relationship with dirt and create new possibilities. 

“Dirt is a living engine for life on Earth,” says director/producer Bill Benenson. “It recycles everything that falls to the ground. If we didn’t have a living skin on the Earth, we wouldn’t exist.” 

“We are treating dirt as a story, not a topic,” adds director/producer Gene Rosow. “We want people to start off with an emotional connection to dirt. Then, we want to instill a sense of caution about the destructive things we are doing to nature and dirt and how those behaviors impact our daily lives.”

The “Ecstatic Skin” of the Earth 

The film was inspired by natural-history writer William Bryant Logan’s book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, a collection of essays on the important role dirt plays in everyday life. 

“After reading the book, I realized how out of touch I had become with the ground beneath my feet,” Rosow says. “Like most city people, I take dirt for granted.” 

“The challenge for a filmmaker was, how do you make this subject interesting?” Benenson adds. “We try to give people hope and empower them to see the possibilities and their potential to change things.”

Interviewing Global Visionaries 

In their 3 years of filming, Benenson and Rosow “got dirty” filming in more than 20 locations, including Argentina, Brazil, France, India, Kenya and several regions of the United States. They wanted to interview 25 renowned global visionaries who are leading the charge to repair this critical natural resource, including: 

  1. Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, an organization that works to “green the ghetto”
  2. Chef Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley’s sustainable Chez Panisse restaurant and founder of the Edible Schoolyard, a 1-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom at an urban middle school
  3. Andy Lipkis, found of the Los Angeles-based environmental group TreePeople
  4. Wes Jackson, PhD, president of The Land Institute and author of Altars of Unhewn Stone: Science and the Earth

Hope for the Future 

On their journey, the filmmakers found: 

  • Farmers and agronomists rediscovering sustainable agriculture
  • Tiny villages standing up for their right to feed their families
  • Scientists discovering connections with soil that can help reduce global warming, including ways to generate electricity from soils and sediments
  • Prison inmates who are finding inner peace and job skills in a prison horticulture program
  • Children uncovering the secrets of soil fertility and eating from edible schoolyards 

 “This film is not about environmental disasters,” Benenson says. “It’s about environmental potential. There are a variety of solutions to the problems we face. There’s a lot of hope for the future, if we come back into balance with dirt.” 

Photo courtesy of Dirt! The Movie