Thought-provoking and amiable enough to overcome a wildly uneven structure.

Thought-provoking and amiable enough to overcome a wildly uneven structure, “Dirt! The Movie” addresses serious threats to the world’s arable land with a refreshingly light touch. Moving from lengthy celebration of the Earth’s soil to convincing agitprop to stories of environmental renewal, Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow’s docu improves steadily as it goes. Eco-minded cable nets should provide the film with a fertile environment, and if not for one easily expurgated F-bomb, it would be perfect high school science-class material as well.

“Dirt!” spends far too much time getting to the point, opening with a watch-checkingly extended succession of scientists, farmers and activists, plus narrator Jamie Lee Curtis, waxing  poetic on the wonders of soil. But once it gets going, it makes for a thorough primer on the catastrophic effects of strip-mining, excessive logging and monoculture farming. Despite the apocalyptic gloom it conjures, pic ends on a conspicuously optimistic note, highlighting successful examples of sustainable farmers and legitimate green businesses, and suggesting that taking up gardening can be just as revolutionary as petitioning Congress. Tech quality is somewhat spotty, though clever animated sequences inject some welcome humor and visual pizzazz.

Dirt! The Movie

Production

A Common Ground Media production. Produced by Bill Benenson, Eleonore Dailly, Gene Rosow. Executive producer, Laurie Benenson. Directed by Bill Benenson, Gene Rosow.

Crew

Camera (color), Steve Elkins, Tom Pakulski, Antonio Rossi; editors, Jonathan Shaw, Brian Singbiel; music, Jorge Corante; music supervisor, Tom Schnabel; animation, Madevi Dailly, Andy Fielding, Eric Keyes, Luc Perez. Reviewed at DocuWeek, Los Angeles, Aug. 2, 2009. (Also in Sundance Film Festival, competing.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai, Alice Waters, Andy Lipkis, Pierre Rabhi, William Bryant Logan, Miguel Altieri, Majora Carter. Narrator: Jamie Lee Curtis.

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