By Hannah E. Jones
With the turn of the year, two nature films are making their way to Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Giant Screen Theater — “Fungi: Web of Life” and “Wings Over Water.” The two films explore the intricacies of the natural world and its abundance of unique flora and fauna.
“Fungi: Web of Life” debuted on Saturday, Jan. 7, and “Wings Over Water” will take the four-story big screen on Saturday, Feb. 4. These films are intended for audiences of all ages.
The first film explores the intricate and complex life of fungi, showing different species from around the world, like Tasmania, the U.K., China and the U.S. Fungi are an essential piece of the greater ecosystem, but much of their work can go unnoticed. Mushrooms are the fruit of the fungus, representing a much larger underground network of mycelium — roots that absorb and transfer nutrients while also breaking down organic matter.
Fungi also have a role in solving problems for humans. For example, several kinds found in China can break down plastic. In the medical field, fungi is used in medicines like penicillin and antibiotics. They can also be used for pest management in food crops.
In addition to the educational value, Vice President of Programming and Collections Bobbi Hohmann said the team was drawn to the documentary because it ties into Fernbank’s 75-acre old-growth forest.
“All of those little thread-like strands under the surface connect with tree roots and other plants and they help each other out,” Hohmann said. “That’s such an important part of the ecosystem. That interconnectedness within an ecosystem is really interesting and I think really speaks to Fernbank Forest.”
The second film, “Wings Over Water,” explores the wetlands of the Great Plains through the lens of three bird families — the Sandhill Crane, the Yellow Warbler and the Mallard Duck. The documentary showcases the important role that this environment and its water highways play, along with the journeys that birds take to get there. The wetlands are also a key agricultural region in the U.S., and the film focuses on two farming families that are actively trying to preserve them.
“One of the farmers said his father realized, after a series of bad years with their crop yield, that they could do things differently by working with the environment instead of against it. They’ve had successful crops since then,” Hohmann said. “[The farmer] said that you don’t have to work in opposition with Mother Nature. Find a way of working together, then everyone wins — wildlife and humans.”
Fernbank brings new films to the big screen about every three months, although that timeline is flexible based on visitor interest. The two new films will have multiple showings daily. Hohmann and the team see the movie offerings as an essential component of the museum’s educational efforts.
“Museums are about storytelling; Films are about storytelling,” Hohmann said. “[Through the films,] we can take people to other planets, we can show them dinosaurs, volcanoes, ancient cultures, fungi.”
She continued: “We love to educate people, we love to entertain people but the best combination is when people are learning and being entertained. Informal science education is all about getting people excited about a topic, and it doesn’t feel like learning when you do it how we do it. Films are really critical to that.”
Ultimately, Hohmann hopes the films will help visitors learn more about the flora and fauna both in their backyard and in far-away parts of the world, inspiring commitment to conservation.
“We hope that people will be inspired by these messages — you can’t preserve something you don’t know about,” Hohmann said. “Let’s try to conserve [the natural world], learn what we can and maybe help ourselves in the process.”
Click here to learn more about the offerings at Fernbank’s Giant Screen Theater.