LIFF28: Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharpe’s ‘The Creeping Garden’
[Image courtesy of Leedsfilm.com]
There’s a glitz and glamour often ascribed to filmmaking, even in the heady world of documentaries. An audience might have its preconceptions about what constitutes a ‘good’ factual film; there are the high and the mighty, in which men in sharp suits sit around fires and discuss the fabric of the cosmos. There are vivid and interesting ones, when a presenter might trace the course of an empire as it rose and fell. And then there are the ones about slime mould.
For those of you not in the know, slime mould is one of the more peculiar organisms found on the surface of the Earth. Neither wholly plant nor animal, this strange pulsating fungus seems to ‘think’, and can move itself around to find food by extending long, tendril-like chunks of itself. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Not in the hands of Grabham and Sharpe it isn’t.
It isn’t fair to call The Creeping Garden boring because of its subject matter, as there may well be people who are interested in semi-mobile clusters of fungus. It’s entirely justified however to draw attention to the human sinkholes of charisma that are its hosts and the dry, uninspiring way they go about presenting it. We’re introduced to expert upon expert upon expert, all of whom lack any sort of personality or enthusiasm that might make The Creeping Garden enjoyable to watch.
This is particularly disappointing to see because it could so easily have been solved. If instead of multiple presenters there had been one central figure as a host, it would have been far easier to engage with as an audience member. We would have followed this host around as they met the teams of experts, giving us both a way in to engage with the content and a likable figure who could dictate the flow of the ‘narrative’.
This leads on to one of the film’s biggest problems: its lack of discernible direction. There is no sense of a continuous path through The Creeping Garden, no line of enquiry through which we are lead. Instead, we jump from scene to unrelated scene, and what started as an exploration of the biological make-up of fungus will quickly turn into the history of slow-motion photography.
There are moments of greatness in The Creeping Garden, but they are few and far between. The introduction, for example starts off well, with grey-toned shots of woodland and a slow, meticulous score giving it the atmosphere of a horror movie. This is seen again in later sped-up footage of the slime mould moving which is genuinely quite unnerving to watch, but unfortunately, this angle is not pursued far enough. If the filmmakers had decided to really focus on the ‘horror’ aspects of their documentary, playing up the fungus’ otherworldly qualities, then The Creeping Garden would have had a tone that made it stand out. Instead, what they provided us with is a few interesting islands in an ocean of tedium.