Independent Lens "King Corn" on PBS World

Independent Lens "King Corn" on PBS World

Mon, 07/05/2010 - 7:00pm

Pictured: Filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis

Credit: Sam Cullman/ITVS

The odyssey of one acre of corn from farm to food supply.

Two recent college plant a single acre of the nation’s most powerful crop — corn — and set out to follow it on its journey to America’s tables. Independent Lens "King Corn" encores Monday, July 5th at 7p.m. on PBS World (cable 524/DT21.2).

King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college, move to the heartland town that was once home to their great grandfathers. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, nitrogen fertilizers 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 is that the fat of the land is fattening us up, and their journey raises troubling questions about how we eat and how we farm.

Behind America’s $1 hamburgers, 72-ounce sodas and ubiquitous snack foods is the key ingredient that quietly fuels our fast-food nation: corn. In King Corn, the filmmakers tend their small field the way a big farmer would: applying for government subsidies, injecting ammonia fertilizer, planting genetically modified seeds and applying herbicide from a giant tractor. By summer, their modern farm is thriving, and the Corn Belt is steaming toward a
record harvest: 11 billion bushels of corn.

With their crop head-high, Cheney and Ellis leave the farm to see where America’s abundance of corn ends up. But as they enter America’s industrial kitchen, they are forced to confront the realities of their corn’s future: sweetening the sodas of a diabetes-plagued neighborhood in Brooklyn and fattening the feed trough of a 100,000-head cattle feedlot in Colorado. The filmmakers are increasingly troubled by what they find: the abundance of corn is helping to make fast food cheap and consumers sick; it’s driving animals into confinement and farmers off the land. They confront Earl Butz, the original architect of modern subsidies, and then return to Iowa to watch their 10,000-pound harvest fill the combine’s hopper and make its way into America’s food. Their acre, they realize, shouldn’t be planted in corn again—if they can help it.