Monday, June 23, 2008

King Corn

In the engaging and insightful documentary King Corn (trailer from YouTube below), college friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis use their year of experience farming an acre of corn in Iowa as the frame on which to hang a wider exploration of the U.S. food system.

I finally watched King Corn last week after missing it in the theaters and waiting for it from Netflix. I should have seen it sooner. There's a lot to like.
  • Cheney and Ellis are charming stand-ins for the film viewer, looking with astonishment on an industrial system few people understand.
  • The film overcomes gimmickry in part through excellent interviews with Ken Cook, Michael Pollan, an agronomist, a corn syrup industry public relations person, and more. The interview with former Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz, prophet of the agriculture motto "get big or get out," is of considerable historical interest. This interview reminded me of Michael Moore's interview with Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine, but Cheney and Ellis are kinder to their host.
  • A tour of urban neighborhoods, chaperoned by a fellow who grew up in the neighborhood and who lost a parent to diabetes, extends the film's scope beyond the heartland and increases its relevance to audiences anywhere in the country.
  • The film is clever in its use of visuals to communicate complicated information, such as hand-drawn bar graphs that provide substantial quantitative detail without breaking the film's rustic tone, and funny animations using a toy farm to illustrate the agriculture system's interrelationships.
The Boston Globe's rave review points out that the film's gentle tone makes easier watching than Super Size Me or Michael Moore's work, but without subtracting from the film's motivational impact.

1 comment:

Rural Populist said...

You wouldn't believe it, but I am just back from a road trip that took me to the eastern plains of Wyoming, and they are growing irrigated corn out there. In Wyoming. It's amazing what $7.00 a bushel will do.