'Limits of the Imagination' series launches with film on fungi, filmmaker visit

Matthew J. Long
September 09, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Starting this fall, Penn State’s Sustainability Institute (SI) will introduce its next series of films under the title “Limits of the Imagination.” The series consists of eight films, all of which drive the series’ narrative: trying to confront the complexity of global issues, including climate change, social inequality and poverty, and how these issues challenge us personally.

“The idea of 'Limits of the Imagination' is that so many issues in sustainability involve complex, intersecting systems of people, economies, cultures, natural environments and time scales that are all challenging for our imagination,” said Peter Boger, assistant director of community outreach and engagement at SI. “It’s really hard for us to make sense of things and to have empathy on this big scale. It makes it harder for us to contemplate how we take action on sustainability, and we want to tackle these challenges through film.”

The first entry in the series is “Fantastic Fungi,” a new film that details the intricate nature of the fungi kingdom and how mushrooms offer unique possibilities to address environmental and human health issues. The director, Louie Schwartzberg, uses time-lapse video to help reveal natural processes that occur in mushrooms over long periods of time by condensing them into shorter images. According to Boger, the film’s use of time alteration is an example of how films and the arts can help people confront the limits of their own imagination in understanding how natural systems work.

Schwartzberg is an award-winning director especially known for his work with time-lapse cinematography. Schwartzberg will be in attendance for the film’s screening at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at the State Theatre in downtown State College, and he will participate in a post-film Q&A. He also will participate in Research to Action: The Science of Drawdown, a conference Penn State is hosting from Sept. 16-18 that features more than 70 speakers from around the world coming together to explore applied solutions to climate change.

The remaining seven films will screen monthly throughout the academic year, both on Penn State's University Park campus and in the surrounding community.

Along with the overarching narrative of the series, the films serve as a framework for understanding sustainability in the context of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals — 17 objectives agreed to by more than 190 nations to create a sustainable future for the planet. The SDGs cover everything from human sustainability (zero hunger, quality education for all), to economic sustainability (providing good paying, safe jobs and industrial innovation), to environmental sustainability (ensuring clean water and addressing climate change). 

Boger, along with SI intern and Penn State senior Ben Lyman, created and developed the upcoming film series over the past few months. Support for the film series comes from across Penn State, with the series being co-sponsored by the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, the College of Liberal Arts’ Green Team, the College of Engineering, and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. Individual films also are co-sponsored by other colleges and departments across campus. This film series follows SI’s spring 2019 “Landscapes of Labor” film series, which also will return in the 2019-20 academic year. 

Boger hopes audiences are receptive to the new series’ theme.

“I think our goal is to help you realize the world and sustainability are much more complicated than you might think,“ he said. “But those complications don’t have to be limits — they are opportunities.”

For more information about the films in the 'Limits of the Imagination' series, visit https://sites.psu.edu/intersectionsfilm/

Last Updated September 12, 2019