Producer/Director Gene Rosow Talks "Dirt"

One of the perks to living in Los Angeles is the regular invites to screenings ‘n such. Recently, I was invited to TreePeople‘s headquarters to see a screening of the award-winning documentary “Dirt! The Movie”

“Dirt” profiles our most underappreciated and squandered natural resource – you guessed it dirt - or soil if you want a higher-class name.  I approached Producer/Director Gene Rosow after the film and when the man handed me a plant-able business card that would grow wildflowers I knew I had to interview him. 

dirt poter What were your biggest challenges when you set out to make this film?  

The biggest challenge (beyond convincing our friends and families that making a film about dirt was not crazy) was simply how to do it? How indeed... the book we optioned in the warm glow of possibilities is a series of essays. A magical meditative journey through the wonders of dirt. Some great characters, history, science, biblical tales, and astonishing insights.

But there was no inherent story inviting adaptation. The topic was definitely cool but the biggest challenge for us was to think of the topic in story telling terms. Dirt’s story needed to fun, scary, serious, emotional, spiritual, dramatic and visually compelling with a cast of billions. 

So I thought we should try to tell the story of Dirt and humans from Dirt’s point of view. Bill Logan, the author of the book, was skeptical but at least not insulted by the attempt and so we tried.  

Telling the story from Dirt’s POV worked for a while but we couldn’t make it work in terms of sustaining a feature length doc. It was too cheesy - or maybe we were. We met our first challenge and it ate us. The Dirt POV just wasn’t working. You try out these things and when they fail it’s hard not to take them personally. The story structure worked in theory [so] we turned to a more traditional documentary approach. The subjects we chose were in fact great. The topic was unique and could be compelling. Both Bill and I knew we had taken on the most difficult film that either of us had ever worked on. And this was only the beginning of all the usual challenges that confront film makers, financing, putting together a team of collaborators, convincing people to be filmed, etc. etc.  

"Dirt" discusses various ways in which we are degrading the soil and turning areas into deserts or lifeless zones.  Which do you think is the easiest way to stop degradation?   

The easiest way is to start planting!  As Wangari Maathai says:  “Put on a green dress.”   It’s something we all can do.  Look at TreePeople here in LA.  Millions of trees planted, but even more importantly hundreds of thousands of kids planting.  

Out of all the visionaries you interviewed like Majora Carter, Andy Lipkis, Wangari Maathai, etc. which one surprised you the most?    

They were all astonishing!  That’s one of the great things about making documentary films.  If you have a great subject, like dirt, you meet really interesting people.  And they are all working on creating a consciousness that we as a species need to survive.  Each person in the film offered us a new way of looking at the world of dirt, whether building with dirt, generating energy from dirt, rehabilitating lives and communities through a positive relation to dirt. For example: when Wangari Maathai says that what’s going on in Darfur is about dirt it’s mind-boggling.  Or when Vandana Shiva talks about soil not oil she opens up a whole new way of thinking about what’s really important in the world.  

Have you changed any of your behaviors because of what you learned making "Dirt"?    

Yes. Every time I see a patch of dirt I see it as alive.  This awareness got me back to working directly with dirt… before we even began the film I signed up for a community garden plot two blocks from the office.  When my number came up I literally got back into living breathing dirt, growing veggies and flowers and delighting in the very vitality of the dirt.   

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?  Any environmentally related?   

We set out to make “DIRT! The Movie” as a film that was part of an overall media project designed to educate and activate people regarding what we have come to regard as a fundamental issue in preserving our planet. I have made and distributed anti-war films in the Vietnam Era and had previously shared that wonderful filmmaker conceit that if we just make a film we can change the world. Certainly that has worked for brave films that live at the tipping point of a change in consciousness, like An Inconvenient Truth. But we are in the midst of a fundamental shift in perspective in how we use film/media to promote positive change. Many filmmakers are seeding that field (eg. Robert Greenwald).  

The day after our World Premiere at Sundance we all expect to inaugurate a new era in which the films we make play a fundamental role in shifting our consciousness about how we treat our planet - dirt - and each other. With that in mind, “DIRT! The Movie” is a modest beginning of a media project for which we have much broader goals. It is a digital tail that wags a media dog of educational and public engagement projects devoted to imagining a sustainable future. My next four projects are devoted to that process. They include using the media potential of the material produced for “DIRT! The Movie” in television, Internet and educational projects as well as other three feature and documentary projects revealing that another world is possible. In a way that will help raise soil awareness.   

How can people find "Dirt"  - the movie not soil?

Check us out at to see different ways to buy the film and to use it!

More cool stuff on Celsias:

Water-Trapping Device Offers Hope to Drought Stricken Farmers

12 Ways to Volunteer for the Environment

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  • Posted on May 27, 2010. Listed in:

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