Dirt: It's what's for dinner, metaphorically speaking. Everything we eat, most every step we take, connects directly to the soil, and in Deborah Koons Garcia's globe-trotting documentary "Symphony of the Soil," now in a week's run at Facets, the answer to better agriculture and better health is clear as a bell: Lay off the stuff ending with the suffix "-cide," such as herbicides and pesticides and anything posing a threat to the health and well-being of soil, which one expert interviewed in the film describes as "the living skin of the Earth."
This is convincingly argued if eventually repetitive material designed for one theme over all: Chemicals are bad and compost is good. Garcia ranges from Hawaii to India in her survey of various farmers, geologists, ecologists and restaurateurs. What emerges is a single-voice cry for sustainability, and for farm-to-table, smaller-scale, organic-practice agriculture. As farmer Bob Cannard of California, seen out in one of his "gardens" (looks like a field to me), tells Garcia: It's all 50/50. Fifty percent for the cash crop, potatoes in his case; 50 percent for nature, and the soil.
"Without a balance between the two," he says, things'll collapse. We have to feed nature as we feed humanity."
Agreeing with most everything spoken aloud or cited in "Symphony of the Soil" doesn't mean it's a standout doc. It's a blizzard of information, and it can get blurry. The sources and voices tend to echo each other, and the points are made bluntly. (For a striking documentary essay on similiar themes, see Nikolaus Geyrhalter's "Our Daily Bread" some time.) One too many camera subjects go on about the importance of nitrogen, or the niceties of flood plain-based agriculture, or the very existence of compost tea, which looks roughly as appetizing as it sounds.
And yet if the movie gets a few more people to think about where the next meal is coming from, Garcia's work is some kind of a success, more chamber-sized than symphonic.
"Symphony of the Soil"-- 2 1/2 stars
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1:44
Opens: Friday at Facets Cinematheque. Filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia will introduce the Friday-Sunday screenings.