Subjects: Environmental Studies, Food Studies, Race Power and Privilege
Up on the Mountain is a feature length documentary that follows three different groups of commercial mushroom pickers as they travel on the “mushroom circuit”—a year-round migration that can take them anywhere from Alaska to California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming—to harvest wild mushrooms from public forests.
When commercial mushroom picking took off in the 1980s, it immediately attracted some of the most disenfranchised groups of society: Southeast Asian refugees from the Vietnam war who had difficulty finding work because of poor English skills and discrimination; Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants escaping poverty from their countries only to be taken advantage of by U.S. employers; rural Americans out-of-work due to the decline in the logging and fishing industries; and back-to-the-landers who didn’t fit in the 9-to-5 lifestyle. Having little to lose, they took to the woods hoping to regain control over their lives. They have created a subculture of outcast gatherers who depend on a deep knowledge of nature and, most importantly, on one another.
Despite evidence of the sustainability of the harvest, commercial mushroom pickers are repeatedly denied access to public forests. The Forest Service is understaffed and lacks the funding to manage the resource. Forest managers often find themselves overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of hundreds of independent pickers, many of whom think they should have the right to harvest freely from public land. They accuse the Forest Service of privileging the logging industry and of racial profiling.
In a direct cinema style, Up on the Mountain offers an observation of some of the power dynamics that structure our society. We hope the film will contribute to improve the working conditions of the pickers, the management of our public forests, and the relationship between pickers and managers.
World Premiere at the 2022 BIG SKY DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL and Official Selection at the 2022 Princeton Environmental Film Festival
“Powerful, riveting, and aesthetically beautiful. This calls to mind the way in which our Western society largely sees nature and humanity as separate from one another. Wild mushroom harvesting offers a beacon of a different paradigm.” –Fa-Tai Shieh, Professor, Food Studies, The New School
“A classic case of political ecology, artfully rendered. The forest, which at first is a refuge and a source of livelihood, becomes suddenly a place where one fears being kidnapped. What public are public forests for?” –Claude Péloquin, Environmental Geography Researcher
“Immersive, patient, and gorgeous, it supplies us with information that enhances our experience.” –Rustin Thompson, Writer and Filmmaker
“The film posed some pointed questions about the actions and motives of the US Forest Service’s seemingly inconsistent oversight.” –Coley Gray, Documentary Magazine
"Up on the Mountain" is a fascinating look into the world of mushroom pickers and an unwitting portrait of the American dream. Resonating with the mycorrhizal network of the mushrooms, the filmmakers achieve to empathically reveal the complex social entanglements of mushroom hunters seeking out liberty in a fractured society. A great companion piece to Anna Tsing's groundbreaking "The Mushroom at the End of the World". – Jeff Silva, Filmmaker/ Anthropologist, member of La fabrique des écritures ethnographiques, Marseille
About the filmmaker
Olivier Matthon (Director) is a commercial mushroom picker who graduated with a B.A. in Ethnography, Political Ecology, and Nonfiction Writing from the Evergreen State College. His work has been published by Pioneers Press, the UTNE Reader, and High Country News Magazine. His photos of mushroom pickers are part of the exhibition “Impossible Sauvage” at the Museum of Ethnography of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland. Originally from Québec, he now lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Michael Reis (co-director) works as a broadcast coordinator, technical director, and IT network director at a public community media center where he specializes in documenting the unique nuances of rural life. Additionally, Michael works in public outreach and technical training, assisting amateur filmmakers and teaching them how to best use their equipment. He also works as a commercial fisherman every summer and has been a commercial mushroom picker.