How many dirt metaphors can a viewer endure? The answer, unfortunately, is about 45 minutes’ worth. Symphony of the Soil is a feature-length documentary that concerns itself with such universalities as ecosystem sustainability, food production, and environmental conservation, all through the study of soil and its precipitous decay.
From the food we eat to the ground we walk on, soil makes it happen. The economic theory of diminishing returns extends to factual retention, and is of particular consideration when it comes to academically inclined environmental documentaries. Despite director Deborah Koons Garcia’s mighty effort to create a stimulating and visually engaging product, Symphony plays mostly like a taped lecture.
It’s a hard sell from the outset, and, as such, it’s difficult to say how her film could be any better. “Soil is like Times Square all the time—a place full of life,” proclaims one enthusiastic scientist, a woman who probably makes a great biology professor. A roster of dynamic, highly specialized scientists mostly hold your attention—the indomitable grin on one man’s face as he unearths 300,000-year-old soil is particularly contagious. Through a rather ingenious watercolor effect the dense, jargon-heavy material is momentarily, sporadically animated.
After a while, though, all the explanations and definitions make it difficult not to zone out at least momentarily. In the end, it doesn’t much matter if you do: The “think globally, eat organically” takeaway isn’t irrelevant, but it’s also not new and shouldn’t take nearly two hours to arrive at. If educational endurance tests are your thing, Symphony delivers the goods.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 9, 2013