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.