The directors of the environmental documentary "Kiss the Ground" had made three films about oil and wanted to change it up. But when the subject of soil came up, they hesitated: How do you make a movie about dirt exciting?
Filmmakers Josh Tickell and Rebecca Tickell wound up spending seven years making their latest doc, "Kiss the Ground," and all along the way they worried that by the end of the process there may not be a cohesive or compelling story to tell and that their film would be "dull as dirt." What convinced them, however, was the potential in how healthy soil could help turn back the tide of climate change. They wanted to see the seeds that could actually grow from this dirt.
"The only way to downgrade from making a movie about oil, was making a movie about soil. We wanted something more interesting," co-director Josh Tickell told TheWrap in a virtual screening. But the data they found was shocking and made them keep going. "That's kind of the biggest game-changer we can look at. There's no bigger issue than fixing climate change. So seven years, a little long, but save humanity. The film's not going to do that itself, but the information is so valuable. So if we could make a contribution in that way, it was worth it."
"It was shocking because when we found out the single largest, most actionable thing we could do to reverse climate change was called regenerative agriculture, and it was a concept we had never heard of," Rebecca Tickell added. "Part of why it took so long is getting the movement and getting our minds around this concept of regeneration so we could tell the story of how to reverse climate change."
"Kiss The Ground" focuses specifically on the Earth's soil and the agricultural industry to explain how, through a process called "regeneration" that revitalizes the soil, scientists and farmers have actually been able to restore previously lost ecosystems and food supplies. The filmmakers, in some ways, stumbled across something potentially (excuse the dirt pun) groundbreaking and made the film in the hopes that this is a solution that can actually reverse climate change.
"It kept me up at night thinking this is so important for the world to hear, but it's still not put together, and it's still not out there," actor and producer Ian Somerhalder, who you'd recognize from "Lost" and "The Vampire Diaries," told TheWrap. "Where does this footage play into the greater scheme of creating a situation where we can stop the greatest existential threat to human kind? Real small things that keep me up at night."
The problem they ran into was, again, how to make a movie about dirt interesting. The filmmakers throw a lot of terms and agricultural and environmental jargon at you in explaining the effects of regeneration, and, in some cases, they had a hard time getting scientists to all agree on the basic facts of a field that has so many facets and still requires a lot of research.
In the end, Rebecca Tickell explained that "Kiss the Ground" went through 15 different edits, beginning with a version in which they followed a single person who was an advocate for restoring soil, but they couldn't manage to get all of the important terminology into the film to explain just how game-changing this process could be.
"Soil and carbon had to become the hero. We had to personify, anthropomorphize something that's non-human," Josh Tickell said. "Getting realistic about the element, getting realistic about the journey, that helped us craft something that hopefully is enjoyable to watch and educational."
The filmmakers additionally say "Kiss the Ground" has earned the attention of scientists, farmers and activists alike, crossing boundaries in terms of a highly politicized issue and even being used as a teaching tool, with the directors providing a 45-minute cut of the film to over 30 million kids for free.
But what the filmmakers say has been heartening about the process is how hopeful a documentary "Kiss the Ground" is compared to so many other environmental films about the impending doom brought by climate change. They pointed to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" as an example of a movie that showed how screwed we are, but hope this film can point the way to a solution.
"We have entered into this new stage of paralysis where we don't want to talk about it, we don't want to think about it. Thank goodness COVID came along because I can put it out of my mind," Rebecca Tickell said. "We had to right up front acknowledge that. We had to let people know, we're going to show you some bad news, but we're also going to show you some great news. In fact, this is the best news you've probably ever heard, potentially."
"2006, we learned the bad news. Yes, it was based on facts and information. 2020, you learn the good news," Josh Tickell added. "This is the new path we can take. This is the next two or three decades after which we cool the planet, we balance the climate, we feed 10 million people. There's no negatives, there's no downside here. In a way it's the most important science there is."
"Kiss the Ground" is available on Netflix and Vimeo On Demand now. Check out the full interview with the filmmakers above.