There’s a good message at the heart of Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell’s climate crisis documentary, “Kiss the Ground,” though much of it gets obscured by repetitive filmmaking techniques and a cadre of eco-conscious celebrity cameos that add paper-thin razzle dazzle to the proceedings. The documentary does offer a “simple solution” to the climate crisis, with a comprehensive, common-sense plan that centers on reinvigorating our depleted soil. But the Tickells’ apparent belief that fact-based information is more thrilling when it’s delivered by stars that offer no bonafides beyond “hey, I like vegetables too” threatens to keep the film from ever hitting hard enough to truly inspire its viewers.
That’s not to say that a little pomp isn’t welcome, including narrator Woody Harrelson, who manages to straddle the line between “oh, a famous person!” and “well, here’s somebody who knows what they’re doing” in a way that other talking heads, including Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady, and Jason Mraz, can never quite manage. In his narration, Harrelson argues that most news, particularly when it comes to issues of climate change and the attendant political issues, “puts most of us in a state of paralysis.” The documentary attempts to shake that off through a variety of approaches, from flashy graphics to a litany of soil-based puns and more time-lapse photography than you could possibly believe, and even an expert or two to make sense of it all.
It’s a palatable approach clearly designed to appeal to a wide audience, and “Kiss the Ground” should have a fertile future in classroom-based showings. Perhaps some of that young audience will spark more to its reliance on celebs — truly, what does Gisele Bundchen meditating over a pile of lettuce tell anyone about anything? — and also learn some valuable information along the way. The Tickells fill the doc’s relatively short 84-minute running time with plenty of it, too. While much of it could be explained away in much more concise terms (in short, the film is all about how healthy soil can lead to a healthier planet), the sum total is very impressive.
Much of the meat of “Kiss the Ground” will sound familiar to audiences, including basic lessons about photosynthesis and soil respiration (“bad” carbon in, “good” carbon out). Even those not hip to these scientific principles will likely spark to clear visual representation of what good soil (and good farming) looks like. For all the zippy sequences involving soil respiration set to the dulcet tones of “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate (yes, really) and interviews in which singer Mraz waxes poetic on his avocado trees, there are more plain-faced moments that deliver the message all the more clearly. As conservation agronomist Ray Archuleta picks up a handful of dry, dead dirt, the problem is obvious: this isn’t healthy anyone.
Harrelson adds jauntiness to the entire affair and helps reiterate important points, like “carbon is the good guy!,” all the better to hold focus while “Kiss the Ground” keeps sliding off-track. While the documentary’s message seems obvious enough, the Tickells continually attempt to bulk up their points, zinging between scary ruminations about the dangers of pesticides (did you know they were invented a guy who also made poisonous gas for the Nazis?!) and how modern farming is killing our children (our children!). Surely some of this scattershot approach will strike a chord with a wide array of viewers, but it’s difficult not to feel pandered to with annoying regularity.
“Kiss the Ground” has a bevy of information to impart, however, and its plucky resistance to politicizing any of it — while also acknowledging that so much of this is indeed at the mercy of politicians — should hopefully allow its message about the power of such seemingly heady concepts as “regenerative agriculture” go down all the smoother. While platitudes about how this is really just about love — not money or industry or good old-fashioned greed — are far too simplistic, at least the movie attempts to make its issues feel personal enough to make people care. Sure, it’s cheesy idea, but that doesn’t mean that the bedrock truth isn’t real. The same logic applies to the film.
“Kiss the Ground” is now streaming on Netflix.