King Corn (Classroom Version)
Original version available here
Classroom version of classic film about how two friends uncover the devastating impact of corn on the environment, public health and family farms. DVD contains new BIG RIVER: A KING CORN COMPANION.
Directed by Aaron Woolf
A film by Aaron Woolf, Ian Cheney, and Curt Ellis
Editor - Jeffrey K. Miller
Music - The WoWz with Bo Ramsey and Spencer Chakedis
Executive Producer for ITVS - Sally Jo Fifer
A Co-Production of Mosaic Films Incorporated and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
[Note: This DVD includes closed captioned versions of the shortened classroom edition of KING CORN and the new companion film, BIG RIVER: A KING CORN COMPANION (27 mins). For the full-length version of KING CORN (90 mins), click here.
"An excellent introduction to any course on food and agriculture in the United States."
Lawrence Busch, Director, Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards, Michigan State University
King Corn's filmmakers can attend your event, host a discussion, or give a keynote address. To inquire about inviting a filmmaker to your screening, please contact bigriverfilm [at] gmail [dot] com. If you would like to also purchase posters to promote your screening, call us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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.
Features Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Earl Butz, former US Secretary of Agriculture.
This disc also includes the new companion film, BIG RIVER, on the environmental consequences of industrial agriculture.
Note about the short version of KING CORN by co-creator, Curt Ellis: "In creating a classroom-length version of KING CORN, our goal was to keep the content and spirit of the original film intact, while trimming out any details that weren't essential to the film's main points.
The similarities. Both the full-length version and the classroom version structure their stories around my best friend Ian and me moving to Iowa, growing an acre of corn, and setting out to see where our harvest will go when it leaves the farm. Both versions follow corn into corn-fed meat and corn-sweetened soda, and both uncover corn's role as an enabler of fast food, obesity, and diabetes. Both versions deal closely with farm subsidies, using archival footage and a visit to the elderly Earl Butz, father of modern American farm policy. And both films strive to deal fairly and compassionately with the farmers, experts, policymakers and professionals who appear on screen.
The differences. In the full-lengh version, we explore the fact that Ian and I had family roots in rural Iowa; in the classroom version we don't mention it. In the full-length version, we show us injecting fertilizer and applying herbicide; in the classroom version we just include the fertilizer scene. (That alone still gets the point across that farming has largely become a chemical profession, and still conveys the theme that the overriding goal of modern agriculture is to grow as much corn as possible. The chemical aspects of our farm are explored most thoroughly in the accompanying BIG RIVER.) In the full-length film, we include a few scenes that deal with corn as Americana; in the classroom version we remove those moments.
If you're able to, we hope you'll put both copies in your library. The full-length version has the pacing and nuance that made KING CORN really sing when it showed it theaters; the short version hits the highlights and ships with a copy of our follow-up film BIG RIVER, which we think takes the KING CORN conversation to the next place it needs to go.
We're grateful for your support, and for showing KING CORN in the classroom."
Grade Level: 8-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2010
Copyright Date: 2009
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-930-5
"King Corn not only describes the debilitating industrialized agriculture system in which farmers are caught, it also reveals a food system that is not serving us citizen-eaters well. The 'cheap food' provided by our industrialized food system may turn out to be very expensive when all of the costs are considered. This film will encourage many citizens and organizations to become engaged in the food debate that has already begun in many sectors of our society and to join with others who are already part of that debate, to change the policies which, as the film points out, helped to create this food system in the first place. Everyone should see this film...Big River tells 'the rest of the story.' King Corn helped us to understand how growing corn in Iowa is not particularly profitable for farmers. Big River takes us down stream from the farm to better understand
additional unintended consequences--of growing as much corn as possible as--especially to the quality of our water. I appreciated the fact that Big River does not blame the farmer for this ecological disaster. As Paul Thompson has indicated, farmers are now forced into a system which requires them to 'produce as much as possible, regardless of the cost' and Big River points out some of the costs to the farmer, to the environment, and to our communities...We have all been living as if nature's sinks were limitless and they are now full, so we have to redesign our human economies, including agriculture, to function within the limits of nature's resources and nature's absorption capacity. Anything short of that will only degrade our big rivers even more--to the detriment of the health of all living species--including our own. Big River begins to help us understand that."
Frederick Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow, Leopold Center for Sustainable
Agriculture and President of Kirschenmann Family Farms
"If we are what we eat, we are corn--the modern staff of life. In a gentle but extraordinarily subversive narrative, King Corn skillfully takes us through the industrial food chain, from field to plate. All actors in this story receive compassionate treatment--from Iowa farmers and Colorado cattlemen to diabetic New Yorkers and an engaging Earl Butz, the former USDA Secretary who advocated maximum production, damn the consequences. There are no 'bad guys' here. And yet, the net result is a devastating sketch of a food production system that is economically, ecologically, and medically unsustainable. How did we ever get into such a fix?"
Warren Belasco, Professor of American Studies, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Author, Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food
"In this well-crafted film Ian and Curt set off to fulfill their 'dream of fields,' by farming one acre of corn in Iowa. They use that experience to explore the entire corn commodity chain from inputs all the way through to final consumption. Along the way they discover the many successes and failures brought about by the dominance of corn as the basic feedstock for most of the foods we eat. Thus, in a straightforward manner the film displays the tapestry that weaves together overproduction, farm payments, ever-growing farm size, rural depopulation, animal antibiotic use, obesity, and diabetes. I would recommend this film as an excellent introduction to any course on food and agriculture in the United States. Indeed, anyone interested in understanding the problems inherent in corn farming in mid-America - in fact, anyone who eats - should see this film."
Lawrence Busch, University Distinguished Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Director, Institute for Food and
Agricultural Standards, Michigan State University
"Excellent job...Highly appropriate for courses on the culture and politics of food, health or agriculture."
Deeadra Brown, CUNY, Anthropology Review Database
"King Corn is interested in looking at the problems surrounding the industrial food system as a holistically understood entity. Questions of environment, politics, labor, health, community and policy are addressed. Additionally, the film has a fine sense of history...This documentary has high potential for classroom use in instigating discussions about a range of issues surrounding contemporary industrial agriculture."
Rebecca Onion, Green Theory and Praxis: The Journal of Ecopedagogy
"The molecules in most Americans' bodies come more from corn than from any other source; at the same time that it has made us fat, corn monoculture has impoverished the American landscape more than any other organism. And yet, until the filming of King Corn, few Americans had a means to understand why their addiction to high-fructose corn sweeteners is the greatest threat to their health and to the health of rural communities and their landscapes. This film should be seen by every farmer, consumer and student who still believes that America has been made beautiful by our 'amber waves of grain.'"
Gary Nabhan, Author, Coming Home to Eat, Founder, Renewing America's Food Traditions initiative
"The somewhat goofy premise of two East Coast 20-somethings heading to Iowa to farm a single acre of corn actually works, and it works well. Students will be pulled in by Ian and Curt's curiosity and doggedness on their mission to understand how corn becomes us. Along the way, we learn quite a bit about the current realities of Midwest crop farming, decline and resilience in rural America, and the contradictory and disturbing implications of U.S. commodity subsidy policy in shaping the options and outcomes of our food system. King Corn presents a compelling mix of experts and regulars with clarity and compassion. It generates enough laughs to be fun, while also stimulating serious thinking about the important topic of how farm practices and policies influence the food we eat."
Clare Hinrichs, Associate Professor of Rural Sociology, Penn State University
"Brings biochemistry to vivid life. On a surface level, this genial eye-opener celebrates friendship and farming, but on a deeper plane the film laments government largesse and genetic modifications that have turned a protein-filled product into today's 'yellow dent no. 2.' Highly recommended."
"Students in farming communities are sure to debate many statements and ideas present here. The film can be utilized as a launch pad to research its major premises. A singular addition to library collections."
School Library Journal
"There is so much information in this documentary--history, science, socioeconomic trends, diet and nutrition information--that it will be useful to a variety of disciplines...The story flows along, with the related aspects expertly woven into the main theme and giving viewers both the micro and macroscopic picture of the influence of corn in our life, our diet and our society today. Highly Recommended."
Janis Tyhurst, George Fox University, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Easy to watch and interwoven with quirky animation; recommended for any library, but especially those in areas with a high interest in sustainability and environmentalism."
"No doubt inspired to some degree by Super Size Me this equally engaging, slightly better-crafted docu deftly balances humor and insight...Arresting factoids are delivered by helmer Aaron Woolf and collaborators in a package that's as agreeable as it is informative. Subjects' low-key antics, their affectionate regard for the small-town milieu, some delightful stop-motion animation and an excellent rootsy soundtrack by the WoWz all make King Corn go down easy, even if you might regard your burger, fries and Coke with suspicion afterward. Handsome lensing and Jeffrey K. Miller's sharp editing are also worthy of note."
Dennis Harvey, Variety
"The press materials for King Corn trumpet it as a cross between Sicko and Super Size Me, but the film's protagonists, Mr. Ellis and his college friend, Ian Cheney, come off as genial searchers rather than driven interrogators...In the film, Mr. Butz is treated as respectfully as Iowa's plain-spoken farmers, and the golden fields of corn are shot to evoke their majesty. If the filmmakers are going to point any fingers, they say, they will start with themselves."
Joe Drape, The New York Times
"King Corn is as relevant as Super Size Me and as important as An Inconvenient Truth in the recent rash of documentaries that challenge our perceptions of daily life in America."
The Austin Chronicle
"An enormously entertaining moral, socio-economic odyssey (and statistical bonanza) through the American food industry. Ellis, Cheney, and Aaron Woolf's documentary is clear-minded and fair, but just damningly descriptive enough to leave you distrustful of everything on your plate."
William Morris, The Boston Globe
"Gorgeously filmed in digital video and Super-8, using clever stop-motion corn kernel animation and a lyrical score by the 'anti-folk' band the WoWz, King Corn takes what could be a tiresome agri-civics lesson and delivers a lively, funny, sad and even poetic treatise on the reality behind America's cherished self-image as the breadbasket of the world...It should be required viewing before going into a supermarket, McDonald's or your very own refrigerator."
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
"Where this documentary distinguishes itself, however, is in the unusual amount of warmth it lets into the mix. Cheney and Ellis are both funny and completely unthreatening, which does not mean toothless. Like his stars, Woolf treats both friend and foe (including farm-subsidies inventor Earl Butz) with respect, refraining from sarcasm, superiority, or ambush. King Corn insists that we recognize the Corn Belt's beauty and intelligence along with its somewhat self-induced plight."
Janice Page, The Boston Globe
"A deceptively intelligent new entry in the regular-Joe documentary genre...A graceful and frequently humorous film that captures the idiosyncrasies of its characters and never hectors."
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com
"This is a twofold journey: the story of how two college buddies learned about their agricultural heritage, and the tale of how kernels of corn have insidiously worked their way into America's diet-through the cows who are literally overdosing on the stuff...and the soft drinks sweetened with a syrup that the men find impossible to manufacture in a kitchen without damned near blowing up the house. A worthy companion piece to Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation...King Corn will put you off corn for a long, long time, but this is as much a thoughtful meditation on the plight of the American farmer as it is a rant against our expanding waistlines."
Robert Wilonsky, Village Voice
includes scene selection, and useful resource materials on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc. They are 2 pdf files: one a research and action guide, and the other a guide to the film.
King Corn website
PBS website for the film
Awards and Festivals
National PBS Broadcast on "Independent Lens"
First Place, North American Assn for Environmental Education/Albert I Pierce Foundation Film & Video Festival
One of "10 Best Food Documentaries of All Time" PasteMagazine.com
Best Documentary, BendFilm Festival
Runner-Up, Best Feature Documentary, Ecofilms, Rodos International Films + Visual Arts Festival
Hot Docs, Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
San Francisco International Film Festival
South by Southwest Film Festival
American Sociological Association's Annual Meeting Film/Video Screenings
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Chicago International Documentary Film Festival
True/False Documentary Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Sydney Film Festival
Green Film Festival, Seoul
American Conservation Film Festival
Wisconsin Film Festival
Rural Route Film Festival
Camden International Film Festival
Independent Film Festival of Boston
Ozone Film Festival
RiverRun International Film Festival
Milwaukee International Film Festival
Israel Eco Cinema
Princeton Environmental Film Festival
Green Mountain Film Festival
Black Bear Film Festival
Princeton Environmental Film Festival
Harvest Moon Film Fest
Hot Springs Environmental Film Festival
Food And Nutrition
Genetically Modified Foods
Companion film to KING CORN about the ecological consequences of industrial agriculture. DVD contains new classroom version of KING CORN.
An intimate look at the farmers, ranchers, and businesses that are creating a more sustainable food system in the Pacific Northwest.
We Feed the World
Vividly reveals the dysfunctionality of the industrialized world food system and shows what world hunger has to do with us.
Life Running Out of Control
Thorough examination of the issues surrounding the genetic manipulation of plants, animals and human beings.
A leading chef investigates food safety in the age of GMOs and industrial agriculture.
Devising a sustainable food system -- one that is healthy, accessible, and affordable.
Garden tour that proves that growing food can be an avenue to social change.
Investigates the dangers to human health posed by feedlot-raised beef.
The new feature-length version and final chapter in the saga of the postman and the gardener who took on McDonald's. And won.
... more Reviews
"The tale of our number one crop and its most loyal fan: the American consumer...Even if you think you know all the problems, and especially if you happen to totally love corn, this movie is worth your while."
Mother Jones magazine
"The secret history of a ubiquitous grain...King Corn is penetrating and graceful, an uproariously funny and unexpectedly moving look at America's food supply, and especially at the massive corn-farming operations that have come to dominate the placid landscapes of the American Midwest."
The Isthmus (Madison, WI)
"A jauntily hip analysis of the path corn takes from Iowa cornfields to the ultimate ruination of agriculture and American health, King Corn follows in the Morgan Spurlock school with added delight and stop-motion animation. Corn can be funny, it turns out, even if it is destroying us all."
Toronto Eye Weekly
"One of the film's great strengths is the apparent warmth of relationships these guys have created with the locals of Greene, Iowa. Locals think these two kids are a bit crazy to farm a single acre in a place where 500-acre plantings seem small, but are happy to share their lives with them in a very authentic way. To their vast credit, the filmmakers never score cheap points by painting the locals as bumpkins. While primarily about the food system, King Corn also documents friendship. The film is sweet but not sugary, earnest and open-minded, and more than a little bit tragic."
"King Corn will put you off corn for a long, long time; that Coke can will start looking like a hand grenade after a while, and, really, forget that burger for now. But this is as much a thoughtful meditation on the plight of the American farmer as it is a rant against our expanding waistlines. Amazing how something so small as a kernel of corn wound up as dangerous as it is delicious."
City Pages (Minneapolis)
"Engaging and illuminating...While there have been good documentaries - Super Size Me comes to mind - illustrating the link between America's infatuation with junk food and the rapid rise in obesity, King Corn takes a fresh angle on the subject...the filmmakers show how seeds planted in soil in America's heartland end up widening Americans' girth - and how much of the food we eat is part of a huge, unseen and not always pretty assembly line."
Meg Jones, Milwaukee Sentinel Journal
"King Corn may take a whimsical approach to its subject matter, the impact of corn on the American economy and population, but it's deadly serious when it comes to pondering its implications. Expanding waistlines, the demise of the family farm, and what exactly goes into high fructose corn syrup all come into play as the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head, snarls and turns us into a population of corn people. Literally...When stridency can be the easiest path for a compelling film, it is the determination to remain civil that is as impressive as its meticulous scholarship. King Corn, is a bittersweet paean to a lost way of life and eating. While being entertaining and even a little mischievous, it finds perverse outcomes, but no villains. It is informative, without creating partisanship, respectful without being patronizing, entertaining without being dumbed-down."
Andrea Chase, Killer Movie Reviews
"Ellis and Cheney have found an engaging way of getting an important point across: economic forces are driving the American food market and the direction of the drive is not based on nutrition. It is based on cheap food; and the fact that much of that food is unhealthy does not enter into the calculation. Like automobiles, the petrochemical industry, air pollution and global warming, the societal impacts of the corn chain from genetic engineering through pesticides and processing don't get dialed into the overall profit equation. The profit is in dollars to those who invest in the stock market. The price is paid by those who work with the toxins and those who live on the resulting faux food. A fun film with a message, King Corn may be one of those great movies that gets seen most by the wrong people."
Ron Wilkinson, Monsters and Critics
"A funny, charming and informative film that sees corn as the nexus of diet, politics, cultural tradition and what used to be called the American way of life...There are interviews, imaginative graphics and, everywhere, a sense of fun and learning...the film always teaches and entertains in equal, ample measure. It's a treat -- and it's good for you."
Shawn Levy, The Oregonian
"King Corn makes its points without much finger-wagging...It will, however, get you thinking about all that corn, and why such a low-nutrition, high-subsidy crop has become so ubiquitous in the American diet."
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
"King Corn reveals the surprisingly destructive and direct impact of corn processing on the environment, agriculture, and ultimately, the individual."
Institute for Integrative Nutrition
"A remarkable new film...Not since the Meatrix have food issues so complex been so masterfully made plain."
Gabrielle Langholtz, Edible Brooklyn
"Simultaneously nostalgic and sinister, King Corn mixes full-blown Americana with fast-food follies in the Iowa heartland. By the time this documentary is over, you'll wonder if there's any real difference between 'corn-fed' and 'diabetic.'"
John Hartl, Seattle Times
"King Corn is an entertaining and informative look at why corn has become the primary component of the American diet and its impact on the health of American consumers...Highly recommended."
Chris Neilson, DVD Talk
"Eye opening and more than a tad unpleasant...King Corn exposes everything you ever wanted to know about the cornification of the American food system."
"Entertaining and engaging...After seeing the film, I am only eating from farmer's markets and I am reading the labels of everything already in my cupboard. I hope that we as a country change the food we eat and how that food is produced."
Jessica Mosby, The Women's International Perspective