King Corn



Balcony Releasing

NEW YORK -- You won't eat corn with the same light heart again after watching this documentary detailing how the vegetable has been co-opted by the food industry in such a way that it is gradually destroying our health. A worthy complement to such thematically related films as "Fast Food Nation" and "Super Size Me," "King Corn" is an eye-opening indictment of modern farming practices. It recently received its theatrical premiere at New York's Cinema Village and is slated to air on PBS in the spring.

The film, directed by Aaron Woolf, revolves around two longtime friends, Curtis Ellis and Ian Cheney, who share a common background: Both had great-grandfathers who were farmers in the small town of Greene, Iowa.

Deciding to see for themselves just how different modern farming has become, the pair set out to grow an acre of corn, chronicling their crop's journey from the fields into the marketplace.

Much of what they encounter, including the herbicides and genetically modified seeds that now are regularly employed, comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the sheer dominance of corn in our lives, in ways most of us don't recognize. It is particularly prevalent in fast food: high-fructose corn syrup is used to sweeten the sodas, the burgers are made from corn-fed beef that is high in fat, and the fries are made with corn oil.

It's thus not surprising that nearly two-thirds of Americans are classified as overweight or obese and that diabetes is sharply on the rise.

The film also delves into the controversial issues of farm subsidies -- former Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz, who initiated the policy, is interviewed -- and the growing corporatization that is destroying the family farm.

At times the docu becomes a little too simplistic -- we probably didn't need to hear from the Brooklyn cabbie who lost 100 pounds after he stopped drinking soda -- and its concentration on its quirky central figures feels more self-indulgent than illuminating. But the overall importance of its message more than compensates for these minor flaws.