Farming on the big screen: Documentaries taking one view of agriculture to the masses


Contributing Writer

GRANVILLE, Ohio — The new documentary, Big River, a sequel to Curt Ellis’ King Corn, was screened to participants at the 31st annual Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference Feb. 13. The conference presented several movie trailers, along with Ellis’ 27-minute documentary that explores the impacts of farming on water quality in the Midwest.

Movie time

“Regardless on what your perspectives are on these issues, film has the power to tell a very powerful and engaging story to audiences,” said Carol Goland, the association’s executive director.

“I think these films will get non-farmers to tune into some of the important farming issues, since so many people these days are generations removed from the farm and have no understanding of agriculture or the food they eat.”

Savery Rorimer, co-owner of Snake Hill Farms in Geauga County, said she appreciated the works of Ellis for showing how agriculture plays an important role in so many lives.

“It is so discouraging about the uphill battle we face every day to get people to realize the importance of agriculture,” Rorimer said. “I am so happy people like Curt (Ellis) are speaking out and showing people the realities of agriculture today.”

Fellow Snake Hills Farm owner, Louis Rorimer, also enjoyed the screening.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” he added. “The films about agriculture are trying to show the truth behind where are food is coming from and we need to show Americans the truth.”

At the screening, Ellis encouraged audience members to make connections between farm policy, large-scale corn production, family farm loss and obesity.

King Corn

He focused his talk on corn, the subject of his previous film. Ellis, who is originally from Oregon, became interested in agriculture in college.

Enter King Corn.

He, and his longtime friend, Ian Cheney, moved back to their ancestral home of Greene, Iowa, to produce one acre of corn with the help of real farmers, modified corn seeds and herbicides. They then traced their corn through the American food system.

Along the journey, they struggled with what kind of fertilizers to use, how much corn to plant and what kind of government subsidies they should get in on.

When they tried to sell their corn and trace it through the food system, the process becomes even more difficult.

“More than a dozen ingredients in a Dunkin’ Donut contain corn,” Ellis said. “Corn is the one secret ingredient that makes our American food system possible.”

Making a difference

“We weren’t making the film to make money, we were making it to make a difference in our food chain,” the filmmaker said. “We felt we could take this little idea we had about growing an acre of corn in Iowa and, hopefully, somehow make a difference in the world.”

Ellis said filmmakers like him are targeting the younger generations.

“With films like ours, young people are caring more about agriculture,” Ellis said. “The more we can get good food films out, the more the world will be informed about agriculture,” Ellis said.

When asked what kind of reaction Ellis received from conventional farmers, he explained, “I personally have not received a whole lot of comments. I am very surprised by the reactions from farmers. It is another question how the fertilizer companies will feel.”

Turning to water

After completing King Corn, Ellis realized there was another agricultural impact that affected people off the immediate farmlands.

“We realized, just as we were leaving Iowa, that we had only told half of our story,” Ellis said. “We had missed this incredibly powerful story of the water involved with crop production. The floods in Iowa made us wonder if something besides the crops left the field over the course of the year.”

Ellis’ eyes turned to the waters.

“There is a lot of residue found in rivers from fertilizers. Big River talks with farmers in Iowa as well as fish farmers in the Gulf of Mexico and brings connections to both of the farmers. Farmers are working together to fix the runoff problems and help each other.”

For more information on Ellis’ movies, visit and

At the movies

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association conference also aired these movie trailers that focused on sustainable agriculture:

PolyCultures is a new documentary focusing on growing food where we live. The movie producers Tom Kondilas and David Pearl wanted to show experiences from small farmers and try to teach others how to make a living by having a small farm.

The Greenhorns is a motion picture movement, produced by Serine Von Tscharnerfleming. The movie focuses on sustainable agriculture and younger farming generation.

Grown in Detroit is a documentary about a school in Detroit that serves pregnant teen moms with a farm to grow food on. The movie focuses on urban farming and using vacant land to grow produce on to sell at local farm markets in cities. (Watch the trailer.)

Fresh, by Ana Sofia Joanes, focuses on farmers who promote sustainable or alternative agriculture practices. The movie puts emphasis on buying fresh, local foods.

What’s Organic about Organic?, by Shelley Rogers, is another movie pertaining to agriculture which focuses solely on organic farming. The movie is launching in film festivals now.

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