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GRANVILLE, OH – Interview: Curt Ellis Talks About New Film “Big River”

February 15, 2010

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Independent film star Curt Ellis was at this weekend’s OEFFA conference, showing his new short film Big River as a follow up to the award-winning 2007 documentary, King Corn.

It all started when, after graduating college together in Boston, Ellis and his friend Ian Cheney took a road trip across the country (as many young people do) and noticed that much of the food they consumed during their drive was made from corn. They decided to grow a single acre in a small Iowa farming community where their relatives had lived. Iowa is part of the corn belt, and what starts out as a curious deconstruction of what it means to be a conventional corn farmer in America ultimately uncovers how the industrialization of corn has driven family farming to near extinction with larger industrial farms. This trend reflects the larger industrialization of the North American food system, whereby decisions relating to what crops are subsidized and how they are grown, are based more on race-to-the-bottom economic considerations than their ramifications on the environment or the population. They take a close look at the production of corn-based food additives, whose empty calories are found in countless food products and contribute to our nationwide epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

In a spontaneous interview with The Erie Wire, Ellis discusses Big River, and what he and Cheney discovered downstream as they followed the runoff of petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers from growing their acre of corn. With Iowa located in the Mississippi River Watershed, the pair learn that over half of Iowa’s topsoil has washed down the waterways, along with the nitrate-based fertilizers that are causing a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. They also discover that the same chemicals they used to grow their acre are blamed for a cancer cluster back in that small farming community.

As a part of the population that has the closest connection with the land, farmers should be rewarded for preserving soil and protecting water. Ask your Senators and Representatives to defend the Conservation Stewardship Program and tell the Obama Administration to support Green Payments that reward sustainable farming instead of the outdated policies behind commodity payments that only reward all-out production.  Sign the petition.

Following up on their Peabody-winning documentary King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis are back for a new adventure in America’s agribusiness underbelly. This time they’re following the runoff that leaves their acre of corn, on a journey that takes them from heartland cancer clusters to a hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf. Visit bigriverfilm.com for more information.

Curtis Ellis, co-director and producer of Big River and King Corn, talking with Lauren Berlekamp of The Erie Wire at the 2010 OEFFA conference. photo: The Erie Wire

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