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Symbiotic Earth

SYMBIOTIC EARTH explores the life and ideas of Lynn Margulis, a brilliant and radical scientist, whose unconventional theories challenged the male-dominated scientific community and are today fundamentally changing how we look at our selves, evolution, and the environment.

As a young scientist in the 1960s, Margulis was ridiculed when she first proposed that symbiosis was a key driver of evolution, but she persisted. Instead of the mechanistic view that life evolved through random genetic mutations and competition, she presented a symbiotic narrative in which bacteria joined together to create the complex cells that formed animals, plants and all other organisms - which together form a multi-dimensional living entity that covers the Earth. Humans are not the pinnacle of life with the right to exploit nature, but part of this complex cognitive system in which each of our actions has repercussions.

Filmmaker John Feldman traveled globally to meet Margulis' cutting-edge colleagues and continually asked: What happens when the truth changes? SYMBIOTIC EARTH examines the worldview that has led to climate change and extreme capitalism and offers a new approach to understanding life that encourages a sustainable and symbiotic lifestyle.

A comprehensive 86-page Study Guide by Dorion Sagan and John Feldman is available, and includes for each film essay:

  • Detailed Synopsis
  • Questions for Discussion and Reflection
  • Expanded Glossary, an extensive list of key words which can be read as a map of the concepts in the film
  • Bibliography for further reading listing books, articles and links to online materials


  • Ideas for how to present the film in different contexts, e.g. classroom, community screening
  • Still images and graphics from the film

'Symbiotic Earth offers a fascinating and rewarding educational experience while conveying a key conceptual breakthrough in the life sciences. It will enrich and enliven college and AP high school courses, as well as all of us with an appetite for discovery about life in Earth. This film is of singular importance at this historical moment because it features both a paradigm shift in evolutionary science and the woman scientist whose work made it possible.' Joanna Macy, deep ecologist, Buddhist scholar, Author, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World

'This is an extraordinary film about a remarkable scientist. Lynn Margulis deserves to be recognized for her many contributions to evolutionary biology, especially in her insightful discussions of symbiosis. We hope this film will be watched by many people - in classrooms across the country and well beyond.' Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, Co-Directors, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University

'Wonderful film. Informative, engaging, moving and inspiring. Just what a film about a powerful new way of thinking should be.' James Shapiro, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago, Author, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century

'Riveting. A wonderful achievement.' Dr. Douglas Zook, Professor of Ecology, Boston University

'A wonderful film - Symbiotic Earth brings biology to life! This documentary is a concise history of evolutionary biology, a fascinating case study in shifting scientific paradigms, and an informative portrait of the remarkable Lynn Margulis. Clearly presented and accessible, it will appeal to a broad range of viewers, and especially to students and educators in the biological and environmental sciences.' Curt Meine, Senior Fellow, Center for Humans and Nature, The Aldo Leopold Foundation, Author, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work

'Thoughtful and moving...This film should be required of many introductory college courses, from the physical and life sciences to the social sciences.' R. Mark Leckie, Professor of Geology and Earth Systems, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

'Symbiotic Earth conveys one of the most important biographies of the last 50 years. It's no exaggeration to say that Lynn Margulis' contribution to science is in the same league as Jim Watson, Francis Crick, Stephen Hawking and Barbara McClintock...Everyone who is interested in living things, evolution, or the environment must watch this.' Perry Marshall, Author, Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design

'Symbiotic Earth chronicles the brilliant conceptual achievements and exuberant life of Lynn Margulis, the thinker who revolutionized evolutionary biology with her theories of symbiogenesis and Gaia. The documentary footage and first-hand accounts of Margulis's vibrant personality and ideas alone make this a must-watch film for students of both the life sciences and the history of science.' Dr. Sophia Roosth, Associate Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University, Author, Synthetic: How Life Got Made

'It was a wonderful experience to watch and feel its message. The film celebrates the scientific mind the passion of the individual and the bumpy roads that science sometimes requires us to navigate. Your film is just brilliant - like Lynn!' Julie Brigham-Grette, Professor of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst

'Beautiful and powerful film...The film not only captures Margulis' work so vividly and elegantly, it also left room for some fascinating and nuanced disagreements.' Yarden Katz, Fellow in Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School

'Symbiotic Earth leaves us looking at the world in a new light, understanding it better and yet more than ever aware of its essential mystery.' Dr. Robert Sternberg, Science Communication Unit, Imperial College London

'The film bursts with footage of one of the most important biologists since Darwin...We have from Lynn, so vividly present in this film, an account of how evolutionary novelty emerges in the drama of cellular symbiosis. This is the drama of life's history and the narrative of its ongoing possibilities.' Dr. Donna Haraway, Professor Emerita of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies, University of California - Santa Cruz

'An astonishingly important, deeply transformative, and original film - historic in fact. Its momentous news that all biological life (including ours) succeeds not by competition but by collaboration offers ways to resolve even our devastating global climate emergency.' Bill Blakemore, Veteran foreign and domestic correspondent, ABC News

'This splendid film gives us insights into Margulis' prolific career; and into the woman, whose vitality explodes across the screen with the force of a slow-motion supernova.' Margaret Wertheim, Author, Physics on the Fringe, Founder, Institute For Figuring

'Important, thought provoking, and beautifully shot.' Martin Ping, Executive Director, Hawthorne Valley Association

'Captivating...Absolutely riveting...It creates a whole new way of thinking about the beginnings of and development of life.' Ross Gelbspan, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Author, The Heat Is On and Boiling Point

'Symbiotic Earth highlights the importance of Lynn's thought for our understanding of evolutionary change. Considering these two aspects of her work, symbiogenesis and critique of Neodarwinism, there is little doubt that Lynn Margulis was the greatest natural scientist of the last century. Symbiotic Earth does a superb job explaining and celebrating the scientific impact of the Lynn Margulis legacy.' Mark McMenamin, Professor of Geology, Mount Holyoke College, Author, The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the First Complex Life


Main credits

Feldman, John (filmmaker)
Feldman, John (screenwriter)
Feldman, John (narrator)
Feldman, John (cinematographer)
Feldman, John (editor of moving image work)
Davies, Susan (film producer)

Other credits

Camera, editor, John Feldman; music, Sheila Silver.

Docuseek subjects

Distributor subjects

Earth Science
Environmental Ethics
History of Science
Philosophy of Science
Women's Studies


Lynn Margulis, evolution, male-dominated scientific community, symbiosis, mechanistic view of life, random genetic mutations, competition, survival of the fittest, Herbert Spencer, separating man from nature, Descartes, humans as pinnacle of nature, exploiting nature, worldview leading to climate change, climate change, extreme capitalism, reductionism, systems thinking, neo-darwinism, capitalist zeitgeist, selfish gene, Richard Dawkins, natural selection, Gregor Mendel, Lamarck, creationism, laissez-faire economics, Darwin, origin of the species, Carl Sagan, University of Chicago, five kingdoms, bacteria, protoctists, fungi, animals, plants, viruses, genomes, DNA molecules, nucleotides, prokaryotic, eukaryotic, Hans Ris, University of Wisconsin, UC Berkeley, Boston University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, symbionts, blue green algae, cyanobacteria, Ivan Wallin, spirochete, mitochondria, chloroplasts, cilia, flagellum, mitosis, endosymbiosis, microbes rule the world, nitrogen cycle, carbon cycle, oxygen cycle, mycorrhizal fungus, genetics, microbiology, NASA, symbiosis, symbiotic world view, environmental evolution course, Puffer's pond, gaia theory, marine biological lab, Woods Hole, energy and resources institute new delhi, coral, coral bleaching, microbiota, minakatella, genetic determinism, human genome project, life as a process, autopoesis, Barbara McClintock, epigenetics, lymphocytes, Anton de Bary, symbiogenesis, hybridization, Oxford debate with Richard Dawkins and Lynn Margulis, protists, Mary Catherine Bateson, Martin Brasier, Fritjof Capra, Betsey Dexter Dyer, Andre Fortin, Scott Gilbert, Richard Guerrero, Stephen Harding, Morten Laane, Tim Lenton, James Lovelock, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Margaret McFall-Ngai, Denis Noble, Sir Richard Roberts, Dorion Sagan, Jan Saap, James Shapiro, Don Williamson, Douglas Zook; "Symbiotic Earth"; Bullfrog Films,doc,bio,env; history; science

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