T.O. filmmaker and great dissenter Ron Mann is having a very good year. Hot Docs has just announced plans for a Mann retrospective at the upcoming festival, a book featuring essays on each of his groundbreaking films is in the works, and his latest film, Know Your Mushrooms, premieres this week at the Royal.
I talked to Mann in his Sphinx Production offices about mushrooms, movies and his recent good fortune. See Indie & Rep Film and Daily Events for info on a January 31 screening that's a funder for the Living Libations team, which faces charges related to exporting essential oils and chocolate - you read that right - across the border.
What drew you to the fabulousness of fungi?
Jim Jarmusch was in this very room reviewing mushroom scenes in movies to prepare for a lecture he was giving at the Telluride Mushroom Festival. He made me see the need to study mushrooms, because they may reveal to us how the planet can survive. The remains of the 5,000-year-old man found in a melting glacier in the Tyrolean Alps were found near a satchel containing three mushrooms, one for kindling, one for food, one for medicinal use. It's almost as if mushrooms are all you really need.
Your mushroom enthusiasts, Larry Evans and Gary Lincoff, are real characters.
Larry is the Indiana Jones of mushroom watchers. He's in Bolivia right now identifying different varieties of mushrooms for the Bolivian government. He's a Dead head. Whenever I meet Dead heads, I recognize something in their eyes. Gary Lincoff is the same way - they're in tune with the world.
Love the pop cult references. How come you didn't use the Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit?
Yeah, it's got one of the greatest song lyrics ever: "Feed your head." But the Blue Man Group used it to parody the 60s, and it totally coloured that song for me forever.
I missed those cute mushrooms from the film Fantasia, too.
Disney and copyright? I stay away from that. Dan O'Neill [featured in Mann's Comic Book Confidential] had Minnie fucking Mickey, and he got sued by Disney. Whether it was parody or copy infringement, he lost.
You've made a film called Grass. Now this. So, pot or 'shrooms?
Psilocybin all the way - they call it the love drug for a reason.
Grooviest fungi fact?
Mushroom DNA is closer to humans' than to plants'. That's really freaky.
What's your Toronto secret?
Robarts Library. It has the biggest archive of Canadian audio-visual heritage outside of the national archives - 30 years of television and film. When you're researching, don't just go to Google. Go to the library, go look things up, look at artifacts. History is in the outtakes.
How do you feel about the Hot Docs retrospective?
I'm glad it's mid-career. I mean, there are a few films left in me yet. But it's strange: I don't even consider myself a filmmaker; I consider myself a cultural historian.
Ron Mann on his fascination with mushrooms
Ron on his interest in films about drugs
On the Hot Docs retrospective