movie poster for kiss the ground

When we hear the phrase “climate change,” our gut reaction doesn’t tend to be one of overwhelming confidence and ambition. As an English major and film lover, I know I’ve struggled with how to start being a solutionist for our planet. The problem often feels too massive and complex, leaving many feeling paralyzed with fear and uncertain where to begin. On top of this, urgent calls to action in the media tend to emphasize this fear. And while fear is an all too real and necessary aspect of facing environmental issues, Netflix’s Kiss the Ground (2020) shows that it may not be the best way to cultivate lasting engagement. Helmed by filmmaker-activists Rebecca Harrell Tickell and Josh Tickell, the documentary places urgency in education and hope rather than in fear. The film has overwhelmingly won over audiences and awards, receiving twenty-five awards so far and becoming an official selection at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. Kiss the Ground uses filmmaking to fully engage its audience, make environmental challenges feel personal, offer a hopeful perspective, and a solution rooted in reality—literally!

What is Kiss the Ground’s Solution?

Kiss the Ground does not promise to completely resolve the atmospheric conditions of our planet in eighty-four minutes. Instead, it focuses on educating viewers on regenerative agriculture and carbon sequestration in an accessible, tangible way. Despite how complicated these phrases sound, Josh and Rebecca Tickell are dedicated to making them appear as vibrant and accessible as the possibilities they represent. As the familiar voice of Woody Harrelson narrates, “Soil has the unique ability to sequester carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.” Basically, when the soil responsible for growing our food is healthy—meaning it has loads of microbes in it—it is able to store carbon from the atmosphere and grow healthier, more resilient plants. Pretty amazing, right?

According to research from the National Resource Defense Council, “Each 1% increase in soil  organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre.” This is a big statistic to wrap your mind around, but it truly shows the exponential power of investing in healthy soil. The non-profit organization behind the film, Kiss the Ground, was founded on this discovery in 2013. The film’s main goal is not only to explain these concepts, but to emphasize that everyone has a place in the movement. The organization’s website shows a real-time tracker of the trailer’s viewership, which is currently at 9.5 million. Kiss the Ground’s intentions are truly to educate as many humans as possible, no matter their background or ambitions. 

Filmmaking and Environmental Awareness…A Match Made in Heaven?

How and where does one begin the task of educating an audience? Much like environmental challenges, the task seems massive. But let’s take a step back. A solution might have been in front of us for over a century. People have been finding ways to capture audiences’ attention since the first film was screened in 1895. Cinema has impacted our lifestyles, actions, and opinions for as long as we can all remember. The Tickells are tuning in to the power of cinema, using their filmmaking techniques to create an educational experience that sticks.

When explaining the process of carbon storage, film shows transparent animated carbon atoms move over close-up footage that shows every grain of soil in order to illustrate how carbon is stored. The filmmaking truly makes the soil feel alive to the viewer, educating us in a way that extends beyond words.  These visuals don’t slow down for a single beat, constantly shifting back and forth between the small-scale by animating microbes that live in the soil and the large-scale with bird’s-eye views of agricultural landscapes. The Tickells know the audience’s attention span is short and precious and they don’t waste a moment in making visual connections between the big picture and the soil under our feet. 

The Role of Imagery in Audience Engagement

In addition to using animation and intentional cutting between scenes, Kiss the Ground features intense, memorable imagery. Imagery has always made audiences lean into their screens and feel part of a film. In one scene, Ray Archuleta—a soil conservationist and educational voice in the film—shows a room of farmers satellite footage of how the carbon in the atmosphere changes in response to the soil. As the satellite images show the carbon increase, footage of soil tilling is played over it, making the connection between atmospheric change and human action feel real for the viewer. Like I mentioned earlier, I am the furthest thing from a STEM major, a fact that has often intimidated me when it comes to finding a place in the movement. Rather than narrowing their audience with a focus on scientific language, Kiss the Ground wins its audience over with the most human experiences—our senses. 

The film is dedicated to keeping viewers engaged because the stakes are simply too high for us not to be. From close-up shots of the soil to repeated shots of food being scraped into compost bins in San Francisco, the film is determined to make climate change feel personal. At some points, the visuals were so strong that I found myself recalling the smell of fresh earth, the feeling of tall grass in my hands, and memories of scraping my own food waste into the garbage. As a result, I took a second look at simple actions I do every day that I just hadn’t been thinking about. Imagery sparks memory and emotion, causing viewers to consider their own actions realistically without feeling defensive or overwhelmed. Luckily, imagery isn’t limited to film at all. This tactic could be used in television, poetry, literature, and marketing related to environmental education and activism, making it a powerful tool. The title of the film even suggests that we must press our lips to the soil—an evocative and grounding idea—in order to get started. 

Start Wherever You Are

The phrase “getting started” can be an intimidating one, especially when it seems like there are so many experts out there. Kiss the Ground makes taking action personal and possible through its inclusion of several voices throughout the film. Tom Brady’s education and action stemmed from his desire for food that will support his best performance as an athlete. Regenerative farmer Gabe Brown’s education was sparked by his farm repeatedly being decimated by hail and drought as a result of tilling practices and erosion.

As a result, he invested in holistic farming without tilling and currently advocates for these practices to be adopted across the country. Actor and activist Ian Somerhalder, who has founded his own environmental organization, notes, “I had no idea that the Earth was desertifying.” Even Ray Archuleta, an expert in the field, makes a point to indicate his previous lack of knowledge about soil’s role in the environment. Kiss the Ground prioritizes making its viewers feel capable by making education feel accessible and important regardless of your job, geography, or interests. Everyone’s education begins somewhere and Kiss the Ground is the starting point for many viewers, including myself.

How You Can “Kiss the Ground”

While the film includes many perspectives, the central message is clear: we must work in tandem with the Earth. As Jeff Creque, an expert on carbon farming and land management, explains, “The way we’re feeding ourselves is undermining the very ecology that we’re dependent on.” Environmental challenges tend to feel like an invasive external enemy to our lives, but in reality, we are facing ourselves—our ways of thinking, our habits, our relationship with the Earth. Once again, Kiss the Ground makes a link between the individual and the big picture. Regardless of who we are, we all have a reason to “kiss the ground.” You can find a link to the Kiss the Ground trailer and several realistic, actionable ways to get involved at!