“NUMEN” FILM SCREENING!: Montpelier’s SAVOY at 7:00 on Saturday, October 10 and Sunday, October 11.
I have sat through many “talking head” documentaries in my years as a film reviewer, but never before have I found so much to laugh, cry and think about as when I screened “Numen: The Nature of Plants” for the first time just a few days ago.
Terrence Youk and Ann Armbrecht’s wonderful new 95 minute film explores the world of plants, their healing powers, and their central importance (largely forgotten, in this day and age) in providing us with the very building blocks of human civilization, from sustenance to healing. The word “numen” refers to the animating spirit or power infused in an object, and the film makes an impressive argument for reconsidering just how significant “plant power” is. “Herbalism is our oldest system of healing on the planet,” observes rock-star herbalist Rosemary Gladstar (if you’ve never heard of her, get your head out of the drug store aisle and medicine closet and pay attention). “Most parts of the world where you travel today you’ll still find people practicing some remnant of traditional herbalism.”
And “Numen” seems to have found some of the most eloquent herbalist voices from around the world to speak on behalf of the plants, along with many other plant-loving people. Like any good documentary, “Numen” assembles an impressive cast of thoughtful characters: medical doctors like Larry Dossey (editor of EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing); citizen activists like BIONEERS founder Kenny Ausubel; and even Maine-based herbal practitioners like Deb Soule. Youk and Armbrecht have done their research and their homework, capturing, in tightly-edited and thoughtful fashion, why plants matter so much.
But what really sets “Numen” apart is the balance of playfulness and candor with which the filmmakers approach their subject. “Numen” opens, for example, with a sped-up time-lapse sequence of plant shoots literally exploding from the ground, accompanied by a catchy funk-driven electric guitar. I was caught completely by surprise, and totally hooked. In another sequence, we see a sped-up “shopping cart camera” view of a modern grocery store, with harried consumers completely detached from the sources of their food. Refreshingly, there are some moving scenes, too – one researcher, for example, breaks down on camera as he reflects on the sheer beauty and mystery of the plant world. In another interview, a traditional herbalist from Hawai’i grapples with the “deep history” and cultural connections she shares with the plants. “Numen” is filled with powerful moments like these.
The special effects and animation work in “Numen,” too, is impressive – taking us on both a micro (inside the plants themselves) and macro (consider the planet from space) tour explaining why plants matter.
Perhaps the best part of the “Numen” experience, though, is how hopeful, positive, and forward-thinking a film it is. In an era when there is so much to be concerned about – peak oil, climate change, the endless “war on terror,” economic downturns, “too-big-to-fail” banksters, and that constant migraine headache that over-the-counter meds can’t quite chase away, “Numen” reminds us that the answers to many of these problems, magically enough, is growing all around us. It is our job, as 21st century citizens inhabiting a finite planet experiencing “limits to growth,” to reconnect with “plant wisdom.” If “Numen” provides the inspiration for us as audience members to root ourselves once again in the earth and amongst the plants, it will have provided an incredibly valuable service to our struggling 21st century world.