‘Fungi: Web of Life’ film sees Björk and Merlin Sheldrake explore a magical world

Björk and microbiologist Merlin Sheldrake unite for ‘Fungi: Web of Life’, a 3D film in which the beauty and ecological importance of fungi unfurls

Pink mushrooms: still from film Fungi: Web of Life, presented by Merlin Sheldrake and narrated by Björk
(Image credit: Fungi: Web of Life. Image by Stephen Axford)

Björk has narrated a 3D film for IMAX about Fungi. Fungi: Web of Life, shot mostly in time-lapse, is presented by fungi expert Merlin Sheldrake and, with the Icelandic singer’s narration, lays bare how essential fungi is to the world we live in and how little we know about mycelial life. 

'I am surprised by simple things, like how much how much fungal mycelium there is in a teaspoon of soil – between 100m and 10km,' says Sheldrake. 'It is a lot. These aren't just fungal cells that are just sitting there, they're doing stuff all the time, transforming their surroundings and producing chemicals that produce enzymes that are interacting with each other.'


Fungi: Web of Life – an ecological film narrated by Björk

pale fungi growing from mossy branch, still from the film Fungi: Web of Life

(Image credit: Fungi: Web of Life. Image by Stephen Axford)

Microbiologist Sheldrake has been making waves with his book, Entangled Life. It highlights the wonderful world of fungi from the mushrooms we see in forests, to the ones we eat, and the invisible world which exists all around us in everyday life. He was contacted by Australian production company Stranger Than Fiction, which produced the film, bringing together Sheldrake, Björk, and photographer Stephen Axford and filmmaker Catherine Marciniak, founders of Planet Fungi, who captured the stunning footage around which the film is based.  

'I felt like a film about fungi would be fun and exciting,' explains Sheldrake, who has a PhD in tropical ecology from Cambridge University. 'They said that part of the plan was to work with Steve and Catherine, who create amazing time-lapses of growing mushrooms, so I said yes.'

luminous fungi growing from bark

(Image credit: Fungi: Web of Life. Image by Stephen Axford)

Björk would join the project later in the process, adding her voice to the 3D unfurling beauty of the plants. 'Björk is such a strong artist and with such an expansive vision and a deeply held connection with the living world. It was a joy to work with her and that joy remains,' Sheldrake adds. 

Known for her passionate support for the environment and nature, Björk joins Sheldrake in speaking on how the destruction of ancient forests also destroys the mycelial networks that connect plants under the ground. While fungi appear as mushrooms on the forest floor, or on the surface of plants and trees, they are also in the soil, connecting the roots of plants in what some call the ‘wood wide web’. The majority of the film takes place in Australia, in the ancient Tarkine Rainforest of Tasmania.

'[Featured] are pockets of forest which are like going back in time: they're the fragments of a type of rainforest that existed for millions of years, since the time of the dinosaurs. When you walk in these places, you are transported, so it was extraordinary to be there, shooting on location as part of such a wonderful team,' Sheldrake recalls. 'I was finding extraordinary fungi that I had never seen before, as a northern hemisphere person.'

Fungi and the forest: the ‘wood wibe web’

blue fungi, seen from underside: still from Fungi: Web of Life

(Image credit: Fungi: Web of Life. Image by Stephen Axford)

At the crux of the film is an ecological message, highlighting the fact that we don’t really know what it is that we are destroying as we extract resources from the Earth. 'The film’s purpose is also to draw attention to these forests and the plight of forests around the world, which are threatened by so many various extractive enterprises, as we know. So the story of the film is a journey through fungal life to explore what these organisms are, how they live, how they activate the regenerative capacity of the biosphere and how we can partner with them to adapt to life on a damaged planet,' continues Sheldrake.

The film also goes into the potential for certain species of fungi to do things like biodegrade plastics and grow the framework for new body organs. Such is the range of the potential for good from research into fungi that by the end of the 40-minute documentary, viewers are utterly converted to the change it could make. 

It also gives Sheldrake more people to talk to about fungi. 'I feel like I can now talk to more people about my passion,' he says. 'But there is a more serious, larger point here, which is that fungi are such vital players in the Earth’s systems, and if we don't think about it, then we're missing a large part of the picture and our understanding of life is radically incomplete.'

Fungi: Web of Life is screening at the Bfi IMAX in London



Amah-Rose Abrams is a British writer, editor and broadcaster covering arts and culture based in London. In her decade plus career she has covered and broken arts stories all over the world and has interviewed artists including Marina Abramovic, Nan Goldin, Ai Weiwei, Lubaina Himid and Herzog & de Meuron. She has also worked in content strategy and production.