If there had been reason to suspect that over-production of sorghum or rice lay behind our national health crisis, I don’t think I would have been as excited about making this film or as somehow conflicted about bringing it out into America. But the thought that corn could be implicated — this hit where it hurts.
I first found corn when, like the plant itself, I moved from my home in Mexico to Iowa 16 years ago, to study film. I loved the Iowa landscape, and would ride my motorcycle through the fields, implausibly comforted by the notion that if I crashed, I would somehow be safe in those green rows. During those long rides, it never occurred to me that those plants would someday be the focus of a film that I would make, or that there was trouble in the garden.
But long before I studied in Iowa, fundamental alterations had been made to the corn plant, and to the role it would play in our food system. Even if I had thought to look more deeply into the effects this evolving corn culture had on our society, it would have been too soon to see. Many of the consequences of what we had done to corn and to corn policy were as yet unknown.
The first corn hybrids were crafted by farmers in humble awe of the possibilities of the plant, and when corn subsidies were altered in the early 1970s, the nation still struggled with widespread hunger. But bad outcomes can come from well-intentioned actions. In reality, those efforts laid the groundwork for the current problems that come from having too much food, at too low a quality. Yes, food is cheaper now, but we are only beginning to understand the full cost that cheapness demands from our environment, our health, and our social fabric.
Today the process of questioning our culture and agriculture is underway in many forms. If you ride a motorcycle through Iowa now, you will pass an increasing number of fields planted in organic corn, or grazed on by free-ranging cattle or buffalo, using farming practices that are safer for all of us. You will pass homes and greenhouses where heirloom varieties of vegetables are being preserved with great urgency and diligence. Maybe even you will get that feeling that Columbus had when he first set eyes on the New World, and wrote to Queen Isabela in Spain that he had found something more valuable than gold: a crop that could feed a continent.
Aaron Woolf, Producer/Director
Woolf received a master’s in film at the University of Iowa, but got the bulk of his education working in the field in Lima, Mexico City, Los Angeles, and New York. In 2000, Aaron directed Greener Grass: Cuba, Baseball, and the United States, a WNET-ITVS co-production that received a Rockie Award and aired nationally on PBS. In 2003, Aaron directed Dying to Leave: The Global Face of Human Trafficking and Smuggling, which won an Australian Logie Award and a Rockie nomination, aired on the PBS series Wide Angle, and was presented at the State Department and the United Nations. Aaron is the founder of Mosaic Films Incorporated and an avid mountaineer.
Ian Cheney, Producer
Ian Cheney grew up in Boston and Maine and attended Yale College and the Yale School of Forestry. Prior to starting work on King Corn, Ian worked for a food distribution company and studied food markets in West Africa. Ian and Curt recently collaborated on the short film Two-Buckets. He is currently in production on a documentary about the first residential green building in Boston.
Curt Ellis, Producer
Ellis grew up in Oregon and studied American history at Yale College. Curt has worked in construction and politics, but was assisting on the sets of fast-food commercials when he started work on King Corn. In 2005 he collaborated with Ian Cheney to create the short film Two-Buckets for WGBH, and is currently working on a film about the first residential green building in Boston.