By: Mark Barber
The Creeping Garden – a documentary about the professional and amateur fascination with slime mould in the scientific community – is a film without an argument; a particularly troublesome direction to take with the documentary genre.
The film begins misleadingly with archival news footage detailing the discovery of an unknown, slimy substance found in Texas, suggesting that the direction the film will be a generic blend between documentary and horror; similar to two other highly talked-about films from Hot Docs earlier this year – Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare, about sleep paralysis, and Welcome to Leith, about a white supremacist who attempts to colonize a small town in North Dakota. From there, however, The Creeping Garden reverses its mood. Immediately we cut to a beautifully composed shot of a forest (perhaps too beautifully composed), where man walks around, talking about, well, slime mould.
If you have absolutely no interest in slime mould (or intense scientific explanations of anything), then stop reading. This is not the film for you. The Creeping Garden is an austere, humourless, didactic exploration of all things slime mould and the scientific discourse surrounding it. This includes discussions of its biological properties, the history of scientific interest in it, and how amateur and professional scientists are engaging with them today. Problematically, none of these strands really cohere into an interesting, stand-alone argument (unless, of course, we consider “slime mold is neat” to be an argument, in which case directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp are extremely persuasive).
While the content is somehow broader than one would anticipate with this kind of topic, there are still some areas investigated here that are of interest. Cinephiles in particular will appreciate the historical intersection of scientific fascination with slime mould with the emergence of the medium of film, particularly the medium’s ability to manipulate the speed of time (an ability one person terms as “time magnification,” but more appropriately termed “time lapse photography”).
With a vague direction and a broad focus for such a specific topic, The Creeping Garden may be instructive to detailing the relevance of slime mould in scientific communities, but its scholarly explanations and insular fascination make it a frequently difficult film to sit through. Those with intellectual curiosity, however, will find a thorough and thoughful – if sweeping – examination of slime mould.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile