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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.

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27 minutes
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).

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?

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: 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

DVD $251
DVD $95

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

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
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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
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Playing with Poison

Swim for the River
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A Sense of Wonder
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Drumbeat for Mother Earth
Toxic chemicals are the greatest threat to the survival of indigenous peoples.

Pointless Pollution
We all contribute to nonpoint source pollution of our water!

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

"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

"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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