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Big River
(with King Corn classroom version)

Companion film to KING CORN about the ecological consequences of industrial agriculture. DVD contains new classroom version of KING CORN.

A printer-friendly version of this page 27 minutes
Closed Captioned

Directed by Curt Ellis
Produced by Curt Ellis and Aaron Woolf
Written by Curt Ellis, Aaron Woolf, Ian Cheney, Jeffrey K. Miller
Edited by Jeffrey K. Miller, Sandra Guardado, Ian Cheney, Martin Burga
Camera by Sam Cullman, Aaron Woolf, Taylor Gentry, Robert Hurst, Ian Cheney
Original Music by The WoWz, Bo Ramsey, Spencer Chakedis
Co-Produced by Ian Cheney, Wicked Delicate Films
Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer
Big River is a companion to King Corn, a documentary co-produced by Mosaic Films Incorporated and the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

"A sharp and clever reminder that nothing ever really goes away." Bill McKibben, Author, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
[Note: This DVD also includes the new closed captioned, classroom version of KING CORN (50 mins).

Big River'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.]

Following up on their Peabody Award-winning documentary KING CORN, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis have returned to Iowa with a new mission: to investigate the environmental impact their acre of corn has had on the people and places downstream.

In a journey that spans from the heartland to the Gulf of Mexico, Ian and Curt trade their combine for a canoe, and set out to see the big world their little acre of corn has touched. On their trip, flashbacks to the pesticides they sprayed, the fertilizers they injected, and the soil they plowed now lead to new questions, explored by new experts in new places. Half of Iowa's topsoil, they learn, has been washed out to sea. Fertilizer runoff has spawned a hypoxic 'dead zone' in the Gulf. And back at their acre, the herbicides they used are blamed for a cancer cluster that reaches all too close to home.

A lively investigation and a worthy follow-up, BIG RIVER grows to ask is industrial agriculture worth its hidden costs?

Grade Level: 9-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2010     Copyright Date: 2009
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-930-5

"A sharp and clever reminder that nothing ever really goes away, certainly not the soup of chemicals we're pouring on our fields."
Bill McKibben, Author, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

"In Walden, Henry David Thoreau defines the `true cost of a thing' as `the amount of life exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.' With characteristically understated eloquence, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis illuminate the devastating downstream consequences of growing corn, the central commodity of the American food system. After witnessing these health and environmental effects, viewers may well conclude that the `true costs' are too much for us or our children to bear."
Warren Belasco, Professor of American Studies, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and Author, Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food

"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 detrimentof 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

"[Big River] raises profound questions about the current petroleum-based agriculture on which Americans rely for most of their food. With rising petroleum prices, widespread environmental problems, and climate change we will need to rethink the very foundations of modern agriculture. It is simply too important to be left to the experts. This film provides a good starting point for public engagement."
Lawrence Busch, University Distinguished Professor, Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards, Michigan State University and Professor of Standards and Society, Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, Lancaster University

"King Corn uses an acre of corn in Iowa to explain how our quest for cheap calories diminishes the quality of our food. Big River uses a canoe trip down the Mississippi to explain how millions of acres of Iowa corn diminish the quality of life of those who live downwind and downstream. Together they make a compelling case for radical changes in what we eat and the ways we produce food."
John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, Author, Sustainable Capitalism, A Return to Common Sense, Small Farms are Real Farms, and Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture

"This film is accessible to all audiences and would serve well as a stand-alone film or used in conjunction with King Corn...Demonstrate[s] the dialectic relationships among multiple stakeholders affected by the process and the effects of industrial farming--including those who have no connection with farming. This over-arching theme provides ample opportunity to engage undergraduate students in discussion about a number of fundamental issues in environmental sociology, social psychology, social inequalities, and introductory courses in sociology touching on any of these areas."
Ryan Kelty, Washington College, Teaching Sociology

"Big River provides a concise overview of the environmental and economic factors at work in American agriculture and a compelling look at the long term consequences of maintaining the status quo. King Corn and Big River complement each other, with King Corn providing the historical and political context for current agricultural practices and Big River showing the personal and societal costs of these agricultural practices."
Janis Tyhurst, George Fox University, Educational Media Reviews Online

"A provocative film that begs extended discussions of global capital, power, labor, commodity fetishism and governmentality. After all, as the last farmer interviewed reminds us, 'if you are not aware of everything that stands behind all that agriculture, you can live with the illusion that there's nothing wrong.' Suitable for college courses in cultural anthropology, anthropology of food, environmental anthropology, and economic anthropology, as well as general audiences."
Susan Falls, Savannah College of Art and Design, Anthropology Review Database

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
Includes both BIG RIVER and the new classroom version of KING CORN. Both films are closed captioned and have scene selection as an option.

Big River web site

Awards and Festivals
Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival
Bend Film Festival
American Conservation Film Festival
Flagstaff Food Film Festival
Princeton Environmental Film Festival
Frozen River Film Festival
Grey Towers Environmental Film Festival
Global Issues Film Festival
Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment Film Festival

Marine Biology
Toxic Chemicals

Related Titles

King Corn (Original Version)
By growing an acre of corn in Iowa two friends uncover the devastating impact that corn is having on the environment, public health and family farms.

Homo Toxicus
Explores the links between the hundreds of toxic pollutants in our environment and increasing health problems.

We Feed the World
Vividly reveals the dysfunctionality of the industrialized world food system and shows what world hunger has to do with us.

My Father's Garden
Explores sustainable agriculture and the contrast between chemical and organic farming.

Swim for the River
The story of the Hudson, and the battle to save it, are told as Chris Swain swims the entire length of the river.

Water On The Table
An intimate portrait of international water activist Maude Barlow and the debate over whether water is a commercial good or a human right.

A Sense of Wonder
Rachel Carson's love for the natural world and her fight to defend it.

Drumbeat for Mother Earth
Toxic chemicals are the greatest threat to the survival of indigenous peoples.

Good Food
An intimate look at the farmers, ranchers, and businesses that are creating a more sustainable food system in the Pacific Northwest.

... more Reviews

"Viewers are asked to consider the long-range consequences of using chemicals and the resulting loss of human and animal life...Science and current events classes can utilize this program, and it should be added to all environmental collections."
Patricia Ann Owens, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, School Library Journal

"What happens in Iowa doesn't stay in Iowa. This is the lesson illuminated in Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney's latest film...This time around, they follow the top soil, fertilizer run-off, and pesticide residues from the acre they planted into the local water system and further to the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone...It seems that the system that pushes us to try and grow as much corn as possible, no matter the costs, might just have human lives on its hands."
Paula Crossfield, Civil Eats

"Cheney and Ellis narrate, but there are moments when they just silently paddle a canoe or listen to experts. The men's silence is powerful...[Big River] successfully re-creates the earlier film's [King Corn] tone, which is calm, curious and, above all, quietly despairing."

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