Filmmakers Rebecca and Josh Tickell, along with music royalty, Julian Lennon, have worked tirelessly to produce the film, Kiss the Ground, an important documentary coming to Netflix on September 22nd. The film could not come at a better time, when our planet and the living beings that inhabit it are in need of healing on a grand scale. This film takes a close look at our earth’s most powerful unsung hero, our soil. We quite literally cannot live without it.
Julian Lennon, the first-born son of late Beatles legend John Lennon and his late first wife, Cynthia Powell Lennon, grew up with the weighty knowledge that his father changed the landscape of popular music forever. His mother was a singer, songwriter and artist in her own right who also went on to make her mark on both British and American popular culture. Julian’s own music career has delivered beautifully composed and vocalized hits like Too Late For Goodbyes, Valotte and Saltwater, an impassioned song about humans’ destruction to our planet. Julian Lennon has devoted the majority of his life to humanitarian work with his White Feather Foundation (the white feather is a nod to Lennon’s late father, John), bringing life-saving natural resources to people in developing nations around and doing his part to safeguard our environment.
Lennon’s latest project is the film, Kiss the Ground, where he came on board as the film’s Executive Producer, ensuring the project had the talent, funding and resources it needed to be seen by as many of us as possible. Filmmakers Rebecca and Josh Tickell are tireless and extraordinarily gifted documentary filmmakers who co-wrote and co-directed Kiss the Ground, and as Rebecca Tickell explains, “Due to COVID-19, never has there been a time on our planet when wellness has been such a priority for so many. When most of us think about wellness we think of our own bodies. It is easy to miss that our wellness is a function of the ecosystem we live in.”
“It’s a healthy ecosystem, healthy soil, and healthy food that leads to healthy people,” says Josh Tickell. “The inverse is also true, and we are living the proof of that now. If we want to live to our fullest potential as the caretakers of this great garden we call earth, we need better manuals, better narratives, and a better framework for co-existing with our beautiful planet.”
With their film, Kiss the Ground, their goal is to tell a new story, which in some ways is an ancient story of how to live in a way that creates the most health for the most people, while also regenerating the ecosystem that sustains us. When I ask the Tickells what Julian Lennon’s involvement has brought to their film, they tell me Lennon is “a rare human being with magical gifts.”
In 2011, Lennon serendipitously attended a party that Rebecca and Josh Tickell were hosting at the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of their film, The Big Fix, and remained in touch. “He was so moved by the idea of Kiss the Ground,” Josh Tickell beams, “that he came on board as an Executive Producer and has been helping ever since.” In addition to Julian Lennon’s work behind the camera, Woody Harrelson, Ian Somerhalder, Patricia and David Arquette, Rosario Dawson, Jason Mraz, Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady appear in the film. Their collective passion for cultivating a healthier planet is obvious from the moment they each step onto the screen.
Allison Kugel: You came on board as Executive Producer of Kiss the Ground later on in production. Did you learn about the film through your White Feather Foundation?
Julian Lennon: I heard about the film through a longtime English friend, Darius Fisher, who is an incredible editor and producer, himself. I knew of some of his previous work with Rebecca and Josh Tickell (co-directors/writers of “Kiss the Ground”) and I always loved the stuff that Josh and Rebecca have done. A few years ago, Darius said they were in the early stages of this interesting project called Kiss the Ground and were looking for guidance, support, and sponsorship; whatever I could possibly bring to the table. They showed me some of the earlier [footage] and immediately I fell in love with the project and wanted to be part of it.
Allison Kugel: In our modern times most of us are quite disconnected from how we get our food. When we think of food insecurity, people equate it with money or the lack thereof. Most people think if they have plenty of money, they will always have plenty of food. Obviously, money is a key element here, but the part of the equation that people are missing is that the true source of our ability to feed ourselves, the true wealth, is in the earth and in our soil, which is currently compromised and proving to be a finite resource.
Julian Lennon: Yes, absolutely. I think 80% or 90% of people don’t realize the value in soil and its health. That is one of the points that comes across in this film. Without healthy soil, we’re all screwed. As they say in the film, there are more organisms in a handful of soil than there are billions of stars in the universe. Trying to get your head around that to start with is a pretty big one, but understanding that biodiversity in our soil and in our food is such an important relationship for us and all living species is key. It’s about understanding and tying that to microclimates and how one thing leads to another. Without one, the other cannot survive. It is a necessity to keep the soil, and your localized soil, as healthy as it possibly can be. It is for the benefit of all. We could talk about this for hours (laugh).
Allison Kugel: Up through the very early 20th century, human beings had to work much harder for their food. They had to work hard to eat. They had to plant their fruits and vegetables, milk their own cows, raise their own chickens, cultivate their own eggs. As a result, I think they were much more connected to the life cycle and what it takes to feed ourselves.
Julian Lennon: Correct. And a lot of my friends and I now have greenhouses. I’m now growing all my own vegetables. I think a lot of people are really beginning to understand, especially in today’s world where a lot of people are becoming sick, the relationship between health and food. In today’s world you see so many people becoming sick from chemicals that are put, not only into our water, but the run-off from the methods of farming of the last 50 years. These so-called modern farming methods have gone on to destroy so much goodness in the world. A lot of people are finally recognizing the relationship between these chemicals and the way farming is done today, and their own health. The cancer rates are up tenfold, if not one hundred-fold, from what they used to be. I honestly believe it all comes down to what we have been feeding ourselves over the last 50 years, and even before that. I also think a lot of us were not aware of that situation, and I wouldn’t say only governments are to blame, but certain farming cultures were doing this without our knowledge in their farming on such a mass scale.
Allison Kugel: There were two things explained in this film that I didn’t know. One, I thought tilling the land was a good thing. I thought you had to till the land to plant seeds. As it turns out, tilling the land degrades and deteriorates our earth’s soil. Two, I thought dirt and soil were synonymous. After becoming educated from this documentary, I am a bit embarrassed about what I didn’t know, but grateful to have learned it.
Julian Lennon: Well, in the film you can see that we are actually educating farmers on how to farm properly again, and to realize that at the end of the day, even with finances coming into play, doing it organically is not only healthier for everybody, but you can make a better buck out of it, and know that you’re doing the right thing for everybody involved. It’s not only for this generation but for generations to come.
Allison Kugel: I’m glad this documentary found a home at Netflix, because Netflix has become this amazing superhighway of information for people.
Julian Lennon: I absolutely agree with that. Netflix is a good home, but it still needs to be seen and still needs to be heard. I have personally felt that there is still a lot of crap out there with some of the documentaries coming forward, that have no clarity to them. What I believe with our film Kiss the Ground is there is absolute clarity and absolute awareness of solutions within our film. With a lot of the documentaries I see these days, they leave you wondering, “Well, what do I do next? What are the answers?” Thankfully, I think this film leaves you with answers as to what we can do to make a difference and have a healthier world and a healthier planet.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about composting. There was a part of the film I thought was interesting, where they were showing how in San Francisco, composting has become a way of life for the entire city. Everyone has their compost bins and civil servants collect everyone’s compost along with all other recyclables like plastic and paper. Can you explain exactly what composting is and how people can compost on their own?
Julian Lennon: I’m not a scientist. I’m a layman too (laugh).
Allison Kugel: Well, from one layman to another (laughs). From your personal experience…
Julian Lennon: All I do know is that with the breakdown of food, I compost at home, and it helps regenerate the soil and fertilize the soil that I’m using to grow my own food in.
Allison Kugel: How do you compost at home? Share with us how you do that.
Julian Lennon. I have a compost bin (new and used compost bins are available for just about any budget) that all leftover food scraps go into, and that stays in there for a few months at a time. Then I use that as a fertilizer for the food that I’m growing. That’s how it operates and how it has worked for me. It’s fantastic, the way it works.
Allison Kugel: So, you just put the loose scraps of organic food waste into a compost bin, let it sit for a recommended amount of time so that it can break down, and then you add it to your soil?
Julian Lennon: You’ve got it. I’ve only just started getting into all of this myself, since this lovely year started (laughs), so I’m a newbie. All I know is that it works, and it is a good way to move forward chemical-free. I’m also out at a few garden centers these days, which I love to do, and they now have professional compost bins. There are a few I have my eye on. I just need a few moments to dig in and do my research on which ones are the best for my situation. The pro ones make it so easy to compost your food. They’re not an expensive thing to do, and I think if you are going to try and grow your own food in whatever capacity, composting is going to be a much better thing for the overall health of your food, your soil and our planet.
Allison Kugel: I know you are an Executive Producer on this film. However, I’m curious why you didn’t want to be on camera? People should know about the work you do advocating for natural resources all over the world.
Julian Lennon: I never saw myself in the project as such. I came along as a supporter to bring all the elements together. Had we sat down and talked about it, I would have been there in a heartbeat to do it. I was coming in as a friend, as a supporter, and I just didn’t see it from that perspective, in terms of being in the film. For the most part, it was a project where we already had most of its parts filled in. Yes, I could have jumped in there, but it didn’t need me. I don’t think this will be the last film of this kind that I’ll be supporting. So, perhaps next time around. I’m just glad I was able to be there to introduce this to outside sponsors and supporters, and that other producers came on board.
Allison Kugel: One bit of information in the film is that we only have enough healthy and fertile topsoil for about 60 more years of harvesting. That really blew me away.
Julian Lennon: There are absolute changes that we could still implement to turn the negative around on all the environmental and humanitarian issues we face. There are some amazing professionals in this world that are working so hard regardless of political scenarios and governmental problems and trying to turn things around. There are incredible people at hand that really are doing the best they can. Certainly, I would have to say Josh and Rebecca and this film sit at the top of the table, if not at the head of the table, with trying to put forward a positive change for environmental and humanitarian issues moving forward
Allison Kugel: What is the connection between eating locally grown, organic plant-based food and protecting or regenerating the soil on our planet?
Julian Lennon: A long time ago I was at a dinner in the UK sitting next to the [Italian] actress Greta Scacchi. At the time I was young and into the pop world, and really hadn’t been involved in environmental issues at all at that stage. But she said to me at the dinner table, “Excuse my French, but why are they serving this fucking Evian water when we could be drinking locally sourced water?!” She really went off on it, and I couldn’t understand what it was all about at first. Then, of course, she went into explaining and she began to change my thinking about all of this. Greta raised the important point, “Why are they shipping bottles of water around the world to other parts of the world?” And just discussing the insanity of it all made sense to me. The cost of it, the pollution of it, alone… we’re talking 30 years ago and I was horrified to learn about that scenario and what it’s doing to our world, not only the soil but the oceans too. That moment made a heavy imprint on me and it’s been a long time now that I just shop locally. I know the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker in my local areas now. I know everything about where things come from, and it’s all locally orientated.
Allison Kugel: How has buying locally changed your life for the better?
Julian Lennon: For my personal experience, I have all kinds of allergies. Certainly, since I have been eating locally grown food and honey, I have not had any of the issues that I had before with allergies or illnesses. You become part of the little universe you inhabit, and I think that’s an important role each of us can play. Obviously, it is more difficult when you’re living in cities. But I also know there are a lot of projects moving forward where in some cities, a lot of buildings are now incorporating the growing of food within interior greenhouses or even rooftops of cities. Some cities are now designing buildings with the idea that they are almost living buildings.
Allison Kugel: There are urban co-op gardens. I know people who have started some.
Julian Lennon: It’s a major step forward. I eat what is available when it’s available, locally. For me, that has made a major difference in life and I think this film also is a step towards other people understanding how it benefits all of us.
Allison Kugel: I have to ask you the spiritual question that I ask everyone. What do you think you came into this life as Julian Lennon to learn, and what do you think you came here to teach?
Julian Lennon: I would have to say that it’s about compassion and empathy. I obviously have found myself in a very unique position in life, and I’ve had a choice in which direction I could’ve gone in. I believe that really it was my mother (the late Cynthia Powell Lennon, first wife of the late John Lennon) on the spiritual front who influenced me, through discovering and observing what she went through in her life. It made me a better person, and I wanted to make her proud in anything and everything that I was doing. To do that one needs to be as good a person as one can be. I have obviously taken that on board and that has been a hugely important lesson for me. Because of the choices I have made, I’ve been able to travel around the world, from the standpoint of my photography, and also with the White Feather Foundation (Lennon’s non-profit foundation).
Allison Kugel: What are some of your past charitable excursions you are most proud of?
Julian Lennon: Oh, going to Ethiopia to see the water wells, going to Colombia and meeting with the Kogi Tribe, which is one of the oldest tribes around. Doing a documentary about the Aboriginals in Australia. Not that I do it to feel good, but I do feel better as a person when I’m trying to do better work and educate people further, whether that’s through music, photography, documentary films, or otherwise. I also feel you cannot shove this stuff down people’s throats. It is about affecting the right balance and causing enough interested people to want to do something about it or want to learn more. I feel I’ve been pretty good at that, whether it’s been through songs like Saltwater or through the documentary work, or through my photography. That’s all part of my purpose, I think. It’s passing on the education, the world education that I have learned through the travels of work that I do. Sometimes, especially with the news and the world today, things have become so insular that you forget there is another world out there.
Allison Kugel: What do you hope the audience will take away from watching this film?
Julian Lennon: I hate to be blunt, but if you kill the soil, you kill yourself. We all depend on each other, from the smallest atom to the largest living organisms in this world. We are all connected. That is what I think people must realize. When you do something, it affects not only you, but everybody else too. Being aware of that allows you to be a bit more understanding in the problems that we face.
Allison Kugel: What can people do in their own community to contribute to the rejuvenation of our earth and our soil?
Julian Lennon: Do everything locally. That is what my takeaway from this film, Kiss the Ground, and this movement would be. Not only on the pollution front and the horrendous stuff we do in the world, but by keeping it local you can keep it clean, and fresh. That is the important takeaway.
The new movie Kiss the Ground, premiering September 22nd on Netflix, focuses on soil regeneration and how it can help climate control. Visit KissTheGround.com and follow on Instagram @kissthegroundmovie. You can also join the movement on Instagram @kisstheground.
Dune Part Two: The Lisan Al Gaib comes for you!
Welcome back to our struggle for control of the known universe already in progress, the continuation of the journey of Paul Atreides from exile to Emperor, Dune Part Two!
So when we last left our intrepid if dubious heroes, House Atreides had been betrayed and virtually destroyed, by a combination of House Harkonnens surprise attacks and the added treachery of Emperor Shaddam and his Sardaukar. Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the last surviving heir (so far) of House Atreides and his mother Jessica, have taken refuge on the desert planet of Arrakis amongst the indigenous Fremen, and as far as most are aware, the other remnants of House Atreides are dead as well. And here is where we catch up with everyone, as the struggle for Atreides emergence and dominance begins in earnest!
The Emperor’s daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) is known for her many skills, but her copious note-taking and writings on the large events shaping her world come to the forefront as she takes counsel with her father amidst games of chance on their homeworld. Her life is one of luxury and privilege but alas, Irulan is a trained Bene Gesserit and is well aware that in all likelihood, she will be used as a pawn in the marriage games empires have to go through. Bet she never imagined it could be to a House everyone swore had been utterly destroyed.
Meanwhile, on Arrakis, Paul is trying to integrate himself into the Fremen way of life, which is admittedly far different from the life he led back on the Atreides homeworld of Caladan. (If nothing else, Caladan has vast oceans.) The Fremen are fiercely independent, gloriously strong fighters, survivors who dare to ride and revere the giant sandworms that inhabit their planet that they call Shai-Hulud, and rightfully distrustful of outsiders. After all, the previous stewardship of Arrakis belonged to House Harkonnen, known for their cruelty and glee at hunting Fremen and torturing their victims, sometimes for weeks at a time. But Paul won his and Jessicas way into the Fremen by fair combat against Jamis, and if nothing else, the Fremen are firm in their beliefs of the old ways.
Or rather, the elder Fremen are, most particularly the famed Fedaykin fighter and Naib (leader) of Sietch Tabr Stilgar (Javier Bardem) is adamant in his unshakable belief that Paul is the foretold Lisan Al Gaib, the Voice from the Outer World, that will lead the Fremen to peace and paradise. Stilgar’s steadfast belief in Paul’s potential only grows, and he manages with just that to convince a great many of the other Fremen elders. The younger generation of Fremen however, of which Paul’s beloved Chani (Zendaya) is a part, generally scoff at the legends of otherworldly prophets and Arrakis as a fabled green, wet heaven. In the beginning, Paul himself swears he doesn’t want to be the Messiah, only a Fremen fighter amongst the rest of them, hundreds of years of the Missionaria Protectiva, the Bene Gesserit practice of spreading useful religious propaganda as seeds on various planets, is working double-time against him. It doesn’t help that Paul’s mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is expounding on that myth as much as she possibly can.
And why would she do that? Survival yes, but also, Jessica is a thoroughly trained Bene Gesserit and knows of plans within plans within plans. Jessica also has many secrets of her own, and one very important one happens to be that she’s pregnant with Paul’s sister. The Bene Gesserit bodily control may be something out of legend, but even Jessica, possibly Reverend Mother Mohiam’s best and most fractious student, will have trouble with the trial the Fremen are insisting she go through to become truly one of them. The Reverend Mother equivalent of Sietch Tabr, known as their Sayyadina, is old and dying, and the Fremen have to have a Reverend Mother. Jessica tells Paul this much and explains that each culture is different in their trial to become a Reverend Mother, so she honestly doesn’t know what to expect. The reality happens to be worse than she could’ve imagined – Jessica must drink the Water of Life, a deadly poison that comes from Shai-Hulud (sort of), and come out the other side of it. And Jessica manages to do it, barely, with almost all of the consequences going to the poor fetus in her womb, the girl that will grow to become Alia Atreides, an insane legend in her own right. But for now, the unnamed fetus is awake and aware and full of the memories of generations of Bene Gesserit women that came before her – before she was even born.
Paul participates in razzia raids amongst the Fremen as they work to take out the spice mining operations of the Harkonnens, immerses himself in the vastly different desert culture of his chosen people, and perhaps most importantly, his romance with his beloved Chani only grows stronger. After declaring his desire to join the fierce fighter elites amongst the Fremen known as Fedaykin, Paul is told by Stilgar that he must summon and ride one of the giant sandworms, the embodiment of Shai-Hulud where the Fremen get their terrible tooth Crysknives from. And after much sendup, in a glorious scene of blinding sand and huge monstrous killer worm-riding, Paul is triumphant and riding atop the sacred creature, his Maker hooks set properly to control the great beast, waving at great distance to his fellow Fremen as Chani looks on in bemusement.
But that’s all external, and inside Paul is beginning to become divided on what he wants to do. As Jessica pushes the Protectiva hard amongst the women and priestesses of the Fremen, she is also pushing her son to become much larger than he ever wanted to be, if nothing else a conqueror can take revenge for the destruction of House Atreides and the death of her beloved Duke Leto. Paul may have earned his place amongst the Fremen and been given new names – Usul, meaning the strength of the base of the pillar, as his private name within the Sietch; and Muad’Dib, from the small mouse survivor of the desert, well versed in desert ways, called ‘Instructor-of-Boys’ in Fremen legend, as his open-use name – but now everyone wants Paul to be something greater, and potentially more destructive, than what he currently is. It only gets worse when Paul begins to suffer prophetic dreams, and visions when he’s awake, prodding him further to his destiny as an epic conqueror of worlds. Nothing can be done for it, Paul convinces himself that he must take the Water of Life himself, to awaken the sleeping prophet inside himself, and allow him to hopefully See a path through the future.
The problem with that plan, is that Bene Gesserit are almost exclusively all women, and only they are supposed to know how to transmute poisons internally, along with all sorts of other “witchcraft”. But Jessica has been training Paul in forbidden Bene Gesserit ways all his life, and as much as Paul might rail and even quail against it, there is no denying his incoming destiny, crushing any resistance he may have with all the force of a giant sandworm hunting a spice blow. And even when Paul has finally given in and taken the cursed substance almost mockingly called the Water of Life, it falls to another strong and prophetic in her right female in his life, his beloved Chani, to save him from himself. But even Chani can’t stop Paul’s destructive destiny as the conqueror of the known worlds, guilty of slaying millions upon millions of people in his quest for vengeance, thinly disguised as peace.
Over on the Harkonnen homeworld of Geidi Prime, “Beast” Rabban (Dave Bautista) is disgusted and enraged at the continuing Fremen raids against the Harkonnens on Arrakis, and terrified of what his uncle the notoriously cruel Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), will do to him in response. The Baron’s nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), heir apparent or na-Baron to House Harkonnen, demonstrates his blood-inborn savagery in a slaughter of the remnants of House Atreides gladiator-style, as his birthday celebration. Pleased with the spectacle, the Baron commands Feyd-Rautha to take control of the fight against this Fremen rebel known as Muad’dib, as Rabban is proving himself more and more useless. And any tool or toy that the Baron finds broken or unusable, is destroyed before being discarded.
As the legend of Muad’dib grows off Arrakis and circulates among the Imperial worlds, the Emperor grinds his teeth in frustration and the Bene Gesserit, led by Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) as the Emperor’s Truthsayer, begin pushing forward their plots and machinations. Lady Margot Fenring (Lea Seydoux), a criminally underused character in this respect, demonstrates her willingness to be a pawn in Bene Gesserit machinations, but never forget, strong Bene Gesserit women have been breaking their own rules for generations. Just look at what Jessica did.
As the raids and rebellion on Arrakis continue, both the Emperor and the Baron become more and more desperate, sending in mercenaries and smugglers in the hopes they might have more luck. And aboard one of those smuggler’s vessels happens to be an old hand at being a smuggler himself, the warrior troubadour with the scarred face given him by “Beast” Rabban himself, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). Reunited with his beloved Duke’s only son, Gurney finds himself swept up in the legend of Muad’dib in the making along with everyone else, though at least from Gurney’s point of view, Paul is using the messianic angle to take revenge for House Atreides.
Finally, in an act of what could be considered the ultimate in arrogance, Emperor Shaddam Corrino himself comes to Arrakis, along with Princess Irulan and many others of his Court, the Baron, and Feyd-Rautha in tow as well, to crush this upstart Muad’dib and his Fremen warriors. Sadly for all that the powerhouse actor Christopher Walken plays him, Emperor Shaddam Corrino is shown as a doddering old man, cowed in the face of Muad’dib’s overwhelming vitality and growing-ever-stronger legend. And there is where we will end the review, for the final confrontation between all key players in the Known Universe is full of spoilers and derivations from the original opus of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune.
For those of you who stuck around long enough to get to the end, after all, Dune Part Two is almost three hours long itself, if you are fans of the original novel and the zany Lynchian masterpiece that was the first Dune film, you may be disappointed or even angered at the changes made to the story for the climactic end scenes. Director Villenuve has an eye for making grand epic scenes like Paul’s sandworm ride but can be a bit scattered when it comes to piecing the story together with all the key players needing to be involved in a way that can be understood by any layman. Dune in any form is a rich, vast universe of storytelling, and even an almost three-hour-long sequel simply can’t cover every last bit that’s in the novels. But if nothing else, the film is an overwhelming feast for the eyes and should bring a whole new legion of fans to the many worlds contained within Dune.
If you want to dive further into the Dune-iverse, do yourself a favor and read the Dune prequel books written by Herbert Jr. and Kevin J. Anderson. Until then, dive into the sands of Arrakis along with Shai-Hulud and scream vengeance to the skies with Paul Muad’dib Atreides in Dune Part Two, in theaters now!
Thatsmye Interviews: Les Weiler on Henchin’: the Series
The 8 Episode Series Tries To Encompass A Lot Leaving Fans In A Cliffhanger.
The 2010 “Avatar: The Last Airbender” movie by M. Night Shyamalan faced criticism for its deviations from the beloved animated series. The film struggled with pacing, casting, and a lackluster script, disappointing fans who cherished the source material. In contrast, the 2024 Netflix series has generated positive buzz for its commitment to diverse casting, adherence to the original storyline, and improved character development. The series seems poised to capture the essence of the animated show, offering a fresh and faithful adaptation that resonates with both new and existing fans.
Even though the Netflix series comes closer to the core ideals of the animated series, I feel it lacks heart. Many scenes barely scratch the surface of the relationships between the characters and the push-and-pull relationship between Aang and Zuko. I will admit the CG versions of Momo and Appa are just so gosh darn cute.
The 8 episode series tries to encompass a lot leaving fans in a cliffhanger. It’s worth a watch and I am hanging on for the next season to be announced.