IndieWIRE: Curt Ellis on how documentaries like “Weight of the Nation” can make a difference

Not long after I graduated from college, I co-created the 2007 documentary “King Corn,” working with my cousin Aaron Woolf (director/producer) and my best friend Ian Cheney (co-producer) to tell the story of one tiny acre of grain and its fate in America’s big food system.

It’s been four years since I’ve watched our film in full (though my parents tell me they still enjoy it). One image has stuck with me more than other during that time, the shot right before the closing credits: a high-angle wide captured by Aaron from atop a grain bin, of Ian and me standing on the edge of our empty field, surveying the square of black dirt that was left after we trucked our harvest to the elevator.

We had spent our year, it turned out, growing 10,000 pounds of fast food. Enough feed for 4,000 corn-fed hamburgers; enough starch to make the corn syrup for 57,000 cans of soda. It was a vast accomplishment and an incredible amount of corn we had grown — but we weren’t proud of where our harvest would go.

The food we grew in “King Corn” left our farm to fuel an epidemic of obesity vividly captured in HBO’s new series “The Weight of the Nation” (which you can now watch online). The statistics have largely worsened since our film came out: two in three Americans are overweight, one in three is obese, and one in two of our children of color is expected to develop Type II diabetes during their lifetimes. “Diabetes follows obesity as night follows day,” as Thomas Friedman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains in the film. We’re already spending $147 billion treating diet-related diseases each year — a figure that is expected to reach $344 billion by 2018.

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