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King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America's most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat-and how we farm Written by
We've heard from some people that they think there is too much food.
Earl L. Butz:
Well it's the basis of our affluence now, the fact that we spend less on food. It's America's best-kept secret. We feed ourselves with approximately 16 or 17% of our take home pay. That's marvelous, that's a very small chunk to feed ourselves. And that includes all the meals we eat at restaurants, all the fancy doodads we get in our food system. I don't see much room for improvement there, which means we'll spend our surplus ...
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"King Corn" is a fun (and disturbing) look at Corn, and how it affects the world... negatively.
The film "King Corn" is a strong piece of cinema. It gives us a deep look at corn. Yes, corn. Many might think that something as simple as corn can hold no real relevance to the world, or any of its people. This film proves otherwise.
It follows Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, as they are followed by director Aaron Woolf and his crew. After a scientist analyzes hair samples from both men, they find something pretty startling- their hair is made of corn? (Well, not exactly. But it's in there.) They go on an odyssey, traveling to Iowa, in order to grow an acre of corn their own, and trace it from first being planted, through its growth, to the harvest, and finally, to how it's processed and how it ends up in our hair.
The film is remarkable in its accessibility. Both of the lead on-screen talent are very engaging and likable. The film also tends to shy away from putting its foot down in the matter. It doesn't say "This is good" or "This is bad", or "blame this person or that organization" it merely presents the evidence and the reaction of Cheney and Ellis to said evidence and the situations that occur. It remains in the middle to an extent, and while it does present the modern corn industry in a negative light (rightfully so, I might add), it isn't too preachy about it. In addition, the filmmakers really try to make the documentary easy to watch and to comprehend, using simple tactics and design to illustrate some of the more abstract points, especially the political jargon and dealings that are brought up. Graphs and stop-motion animation are used to drive home these tough-to-understand concepts in a unique way. When talking about how political farming programs help larger farms grow and can negatively affect smaller farms, rather than seeing something as complex as the talk going on, we see stop-motion-animated Fisher Price toys scurrying about, visually representing what the narration is explaining. It was endearing, and actually quite effective in driving the point home. Quite brilliant, and without spoiling anything, especially touching when a poignant scene later on adds relevance to these stop-motion images.
The film also takes a hard look at the negative side of some of the impacts and bi-products of the corn industry. It does show us how government farming programs encourage the mass production of corn by industrial farms. The sheer scope of this industry rewards the larger industrial farms, but over time seems to phase out and eliminate smaller farms, in essence nearly destroying the classical image of the family farm. It is also explained that corn isn't just used for consumption by humans- it's used for other purposes, such as feeding livestock that will eventually be slaughtered for consumption. However, the corn-based feed negatively impacts the farm animals, who aren't "built" to consume such foods, and harms the value of the meat, by dramatically increasing the fat content. Corn is also used for making artificial sweeteners (such as the infamous High Fructose Corn Syrup, which holds virtually no nutritional value), which are used as a sugar substitute in many different foods. The sheer volume of High Fructose Corn Syrup, while making foods cheaper, is arguably also poisoning people. It's financial perks are matched or even outweighed by the health problems it can cause. The parts of the film dealing with HFCS are deeply troubling. I find it hard to stomach that this topic doesn't get more coverage than it already does- our cheaper foods are killing us.
For all that "King Corn" does properly, the film does do some wrong, though. It could be argued that a large portion of the movie is a moot point and ultimately pointless in the end- and that is Ellis and Cheney's growing of the acre of corn. While it was a nice statement and image, it is revealed that tracking their corn is a fruitless effort- it can not be tracked due to the sheer volume of corn harvested and processed. And so, Ellis and Cheney are left to mathematically figure out what likely happened to their corn. (They likely knew up front before planting that the corn would be untraceable, it seems unfathomable that they wouldn't have known) While seeing them grow their corn was interesting, the fact of the matter is, it could have been cut down somewhat (I would argue it is important enough to keep in the film, but at least five minutes could have been trimmed from the segments involving their planting, caring for and ultimately harvesting the plants), and the spare time used to further educate the audience on the subject. It just felt like a failed potential to myself.
Also, the film does hit a few moments where everything dulls down for a couple minutes, and it drags on, but then again, this seems to happen with most documentaries I've seen, so I can forgive it.
But these errors really don't detract much, they're more nit-picks from me, on how I would've changed the movie, and I will say, they didn't really affect my love for everything else. I adored this documentary!
I felt "King Corn" was a great educational piece. It teaches much, and is also a fun experience. I give it an 8 out of 10.
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