King Corn

Two recent graduates plant a single acre of the nation's most powerful crop and follow it on its journey from a seed to the dinner plate.

Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis with corn cobs in their mouth
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
April 15, 2008
90 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2008 Peabody Awards-George Foster Peabody Award
  • Producer/Director

    Aaron Woolf

    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, Show more 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. Show less


    Ian Cheney

    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 Show more green building in Boston. Show less


    Curt Ellis

    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 Show more building in Boston. Show less

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    The Film

    Behind America’s dollar hamburgers and 72-ounce sodas is a key ingredient that quietly fuels our fast-food nation: corn. In King Corn, recent college graduates Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis head to rural Iowa, where they decide to grow an acre of the nation’s most ubiquitous crop.

    Alarmed by signs of America’s bulging waistlines, the filmmakers arrive in the Midwest enthusiastic about their new endeavor. For their farm-to-be, they choose a tiny town in Floyd County, Iowa. They lease an acre of land from a skeptical landlord, fill out a pile of paperwork to sign up for subsidies, and discover the U.S. government will pay them 28 dollars for their acre. Ian and Curt start the spring by injecting ammonia fertilizer, which promises to increase crop production four-fold. With a rented high-tech tractor, they plant 31,000 seeds in just 18 minutes. Their corn has also been genetically modified for another yield-increasing characteristic: herbicide resistance. When the seedlings sprout from Iowa’s black dirt, Ian and Curt apply a powerful herbicide to ensure that only their corn will thrive on their acre.

    With their crop growing head-high, Ian and Curt leave the farm to see where America’s abundance of corn ends up. As they enter America’s industrial kitchen, they are forced to confront the realities of their crop’s future. In Brooklyn, it sweetens the sodas of a diabetes-plagued neighborhood. In Colorado, it fattens 100,000 cattle at a feedlot. Ian and Curt are increasingly troubled by how the abundance of corn is helping to make fast food cheap and consumers sick, driving animals into confinement and farmers off the land.