Sunday, January 04, 2009

Netflix Documentary Showcase Part 1 - King Corn

Netflix's streaming service for the 360 has a number of fine documentaries available, so this week I'll be featuring the cream of the crop:

"King Corn" is a documentary about corn farming in the United States. That might sound pretty boring, but in many ways, this is one of the best documentaries you'll ever see about nutrition and how industrialized nations feed themselves. It follows two friends, Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis, who move back to small town Iowa in order to grow an acre of corn and follow it through the food supply.

There are a lot of striking images in this particular documentary - mountains of corn, city-sized cattle feedlots, acres and acres of verdant fields. There's an underlying shock factor, too, since the vast majority of corn grown nowadays either becomes livestock feed or is processed into sweetener. The creepiest part of the film, for instane, is when a high fructose corn syrup industry rep is interviewed - her overly polished sales pitch is smarmy.

My only complaint against the piece is that it feels a little one-sided. Modern corn farming is presented in a mostly negative light, with the biggest dissenting voice coming from former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, who points out that modern farming allows the U.S. to grow more corn with less labor than ever before (Butz grew up in a small family farm, and there isn't a whiff of hypocrisy about the man).

Rating: 8/10


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