Lisa Jackson


Janine Marchessault


Art Biology Decolonization Environment Experimental Science
  • Release Date 2019
  • Running Time 11 minutes
  • Closed Captions Yes
  • Availability Canada, US

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This stunning otherworldly short film takes a deep dive into lichen, a species that confounds scientists to this day. Shot in macro 3D, Lichen offers us a look at this remarkable life form and asks what we might learn from it. Ancient and diverse, both an individual and a community, lichens can live in the most extreme environments, including outer space. This meditative film bridges science and philosophy, and the words of lichenologist Trevor Goward illuminate the terrain in poetic and thought-provoking ways.

"Seemingly in response to the questions of scale that surrounded and informed the project, Jackson’s remarkable ​Lichen​ consisted of close-up footage of the composite organisms, accompanied at first by the fluttery compositions of Japanese ambient composer Hiroshi Yoshimura before being supplemented by the voice of self-taught lichen specialist Trevor Goward. Shot in a darkened studio where the specimens were accented by impressionistic movements that produced the effect of passing planets, the tiniest objects of inquiry here became the most cosmic and otherworldly." - ​Canadian Art Magazine

Lichen was inspired by a feature article in ​Scientific American by Erica Gies, “The Meaning of Lichen: How a self-taught naturalist unearthed hidden symbioses in the wilds of British Columbia —and helped to overturn 150 years of accepted scientific wisdom.”

"Diving deep into lichens, Lisa Jackson’s film invites us to focus close attention on these symbiotic beings. Seeing lichens anew yields illumination onto our wider world: that systems are the primary agent of biology, that organisms, systems, and Earth itself have agency.” -Erica Gies, Independent writer, National Geographic Explorer

Director: Lisa Jackson
Producer: Janine Marchessault

Home use and one-time screening for educational use available at

Curator Statement

Reuniting cinematographer Bob Aschmann and award-winning Anishinaabe filmmaker Lisa Jackson for their fifth project (Savage (2009), Intemperance (2014), 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus (2017), Transmissions (2019)), ​Lichen​ reveals worlds within worlds that exist beyond the human senses on our planet. Though if you learn how to observe them, you will find lichens everywhere – they come in different shapes and sizes, and grow on surfaces (natural and constructed) all across the planet. Using powerful 3D macro lenses to photograph their “emergence,” Jackson's film takes us on a meditative journey into a plethora of surreal planetary ecologies. Unlike early anthropocentric views of miniature domains, Lichen features many strange and exquisite species, each one the result of unique pairings between fungus and algae (or cyanobacterium). Lichen are never single organisms but are generated by interactions, networks, relationships with places in deep time. Jackson interviews renowned lichenologist Trevor Goward to understand the philosophical implications of these complex organisms that predate human existence. At times sounding like French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Goward explains what we may learn from these beings which are always in a state of “becoming.” ​Lichen​ reflects upon their mysterious and silent symbioses as a process of cooperating multiplicities that stand in contrast to the turbulent geopolitics of the 21st century. This characteristic may be the key to their longevity. This film is part of a commissioned IMAX program called “Outer Worlds” supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, New Chapter Program 2019. -Janine Marchessault

Awards and Film Festivals

Sundance Film Festival / DOXA Film Festival / San Francisco Film Festival / Images Film Festival / InScience Film Festival / Imagine Science Film Festival, Aeon Award Special Mention / Planet in Focus / imagineNATIVE / RIDM / New Nature Shorts (installation) – Berlin & Montreal, Goethe-Institut & Museum of the Moving Image / Academia Film Olomouc, Honourable Mention

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