The belief that direct contact with the Earth can cure all manner of mankind’s ills drives “The Grounded,” the latest documentary from Alaska-based nature photographer Steve Kroschel. Venturing forth beyond his personal experience of being healed in this fashion, hero/director/diarist Kroschel embarks on a crusade to interview gurus of “grounding” (aka “earthing”) across the continent and further spread the word of the medical miracle. Throwing in sweeping vistas of virgin snow and orphaned moose as proof of nature’s greatness, and recruiting a motley bunch of believers along the way, the film won’t convert anyone but the already holistically minded.
Having heard of the amazing cure-all via podcast, Kroschel first demonstrates the beneficial effects of the process on his own persistent pain. He then hastens to share his discovery with other suffering inhabitants of the small town of Haines, Alaska, achieving similarly positive results. With the eager enthusiasm of a newborn devotee, he seeks out other proponents of the theory, some of them well known and respected (David Suzuki), others merely famous (two ex-astronauts), and some for whom science has assumed downright mystical proportions (a doctor who solemnly declares: “The Earth knew what the patient needed”). The only naysayers represented are a professional negator (a blogger who dubs himself “the Skeptic”) and a scientist who never heard of the phenomenon but dismisses it out of hand.
Also appearing in “The Grounded” are members of Kroschel’s unofficial stock company, a repertory of individuals who popped up in the helmer’s other nature films — like the wolverine star of “Running Free”; Karen the moose; and Kroschel’s son Garrett, who accompanied the director on his diet-cure-for-cancer docu “The Beautiful Truth.” But it is Kroschel himself, through voiceover narration and one-on-one interviews, who dominates the film. His genuine conviction lends some credibility to his film’s “Eureka!”-charged fervor, while highly professional lensing takes the amateurish edge off his enthusiastic espousal of all things natural.
Even still, Kroschel’s tone yields its own problems. While the filmmaker’s boyish sincerity feels legit, it’s a toss-up as to which proves more annoying – the third-person omniscience of an “objective” narrator that one might find in a more conventional documentary, or the folksy, first-person mysticism of this not-for-profit informercial. The film’s bizarre coda — a mini-tribute to composer Stuart Mitchell — shows members of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra recording Mitchell’s relentlessly inspirational score barefoot on “earthing” mats.