“If you didn’t like the one about corn growing, you’re going to love the one about water flowing,” said filmmaker Curt Ellis of his new film “Big River.”
The movie, directed by Ellis, is a companion to “King Corn,” a 2007 documentary about Ellis and his college friend Ian Cheney, who moved to Greene, Iowa, to grow an acre of corn with the help of herbicides, pesticides and some helpful Iowans.
In light of the Iowa floods, Ellis and Cheney couldn’t help but wonder, “What if something besides our harvest had left the farm?” So they returned to Iowa to see what happened to the pesticides and herbicides that have been spread all over the soil in an effort to use less land to grow more. Their journey led them all over Iowa to farms, rivers and even a water filtration center.
Then the duo decided to go south to Louisiana to speak with shrimp boat workers and a marine biologist about the “dead zone” and the negative repercussions that are said to be a result of the excessive use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and chemicals that farmers put on their soil.
Although only 30 minutes long, “Big River” still has the captivating nature of “King Corn.” It presents a lot of valid information, backed up by evidence and research by experts. The focus on the long-term implications of farming methods of the last 50 years really gave audiences a lot to think about.
The idea of watching corn grow and then talking about some negative repercussions of the way we’ve been farming for the past 50 years probably doesn’t excite many moviegoers. However, Ellis’ ability to tell a tale, along with some great filming, use of props like toy tractors and inclusion of expert advice from all across the field (no pun intended, but seriously—farmers, professors and scientists) really add up to make a very interesting as well as educational film. Upon watching Ellis’ work you will be enlightened, and you’ll likely form your own opinion about causes which Ellis is so passionate about. Through a tactful combination of good filming, timing, research and expert input, Ellis won me over with his work.
“I thought that ‘Big River’ was a fascinating and engaging look at the environmental consequences of modern agricultural practices,” said Michael Haedicke, an assistant professor of sociology at Drake.
In his food and society course last semester, Haedicke presented “King Corn” to his class.
“I used ‘King Corn’ because I think that it presents complicated issues of agricultural policy and their impacts on the economic structures of the food system in a way that is accessible to many people,” he said. “The film does a great job of telling the story of agricultural restructuring through the lives of ordinary farmers and consumers.”
Haedicke is a fan of Ellis’ work, and looks forward to seeing more of his films and tactics for getting people involved in food issues.
Still not sure what to think about “Big River”? Then Google it and check out the trailer, as well as other things that Ellis is passionate about, including a new film “Truck Farm” about, yes, a farm in the bed of a truck, parked on the streets of Brooklyn (proving that an old Dodge can learn new tricks). If you’re not yet caught up in Ellis’ work, check out bigriverfilm.com for more information, and kingcorn.net for more background details on how Ellis and Cheney got to this point (as well as some hilarious corn syrup commercial). Until then, remember: just because we’ve been doing something for years doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way or a safer method for our friends, our families and our earth.