Taking an Abstract Idea and Creating a Narrative

How the filmmakers behind "King Corn" crafted a compelling documentary about an inanimate subject matter

Stalking heads: In "King Corn," Ian Cheney (left) and Curt Ellis sow their own acre of crops. (Photo credit: Sam Cullman)

How do you make a compelling and funny narrative out of a subject as seemingly banal as food? As Erica Bernstein reports, documentarian Aaron Woolf's solution was to give two young friends $5,000, send them to Iowa, and tell them not to leave until they found a good story (or ran out of money). The result of this experiment is a smart, inventive, and visually stunning film called King Corn, which continues to open in theatres in selected cities across the country this December. To view the trailer, visit our "Watch" page.

King Corn is a slightly apocalyptic documentary that explores where we come from—or where our food comes from, at the very least. By interweaving a filmmaker-as-subject story of two guys, a cornfield, and some ammonia fertilizer with disparate elements, the film expertly tackles the complicated overarching issues related to farming subsidies in the United States.

A Loving Riff on Punk Life in Tokyo

Before filmmaker Pamela Valente left Japan, she filmed "Rock n' Tokyo", a loving look at the city's throbbing underground music scene

Yu-Gi-Oi!: Onoching, the front man for the Jet Boys, performed a set naked during "Rock 'n Tokyo." (Photo: Rick Hall)

Unlike most documentaries about music, Rock 'n Tokyo is not entirely a reflection of the filmmaker's passion for the artists—although Pamela Valente is certainly a big fan of the acts that appear in the film, including Guitar Wolf, Nine, The 5678s, and the Jet Boys (featuring front man Onoching, shown at left). Instead, Valente's film is really about Tokyo, a city she adores, especially for its strange comingling of rowdy punk kids with women who still wear kimonos and those dark-suited corporate “sararimen." Leah Hochbaum Rosner talks with the filmmaker about her passion project. You can see scenes from the film at our "Watch" page. (Photo source).

The first time Pamela Valente, 37, set foot in Tokyo, she was instantly swept away. The Brazilian-born filmmaker, who’d been living in France for more than a decade, loved Paris, but longed to return to live in a city where the pace was more frenetic. So in 2003, she up and moved to Tokyo.

How to Get a Short on Logo

Marc Leonard, an executive at the cable network, talks about "The Click List," a weekly program devoted to short film

Pool boy: A scene from "Dare," a short film currently airing on Logo's "Click List."

Sixty short films a year are aired by the Logo Network on its Wednesday night program "The Click List: The Best in Short Film." Marc Leonard, an executive at Logo, talks about the evolution of the program, its online reach, how films are selected, and why he thinks Talladega Nights was a bit of a watershed moment in the depiction of LGBT characters on film. (The photo above is from Dare, a current Click List short by filmmakers Adam Salky and David Brind.)

Grassroots filmmakers are always looking for mainstream distribution, and short films often have a particularly tough time gaining exposure. Which is why the success of the Logo Network’s short-film programming is welcome news. Two years ago, Logo, which is basically MTV’s gay cousin, launched The Click List: The Best in Short Film, a weekly show featuring an eclectic mix of stories.

Exploring Her Formative Years

British filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach reflects on schooling—in fiction and real life—and the shift from making shorts to her first feature

Hope Dickson Leach

Todd Solondz protegée Hope Dickson Leach has set several of her films at British boarding schools. Having attended one herself, she says a boarding school is an interesting venue for a film because it is a "strange and terrible place." As Leach works on her first feature English Rose (set where else?), The Independent's Mariel Lynn DiSibio talks with her about why her educational experience has followed her from project to project as a focal point.

As a young girl, Hope Dickson Leach dreamed of becoming a painter. She attended boarding school in England from the ages of 9 to 17 and earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh. But after interning for the likes of Mario Kassar and Todd Solondz, she convinced Columbia University's film department to give her a chance.

No Ordinary Granny

Filmmaker Marlo Poras discusses the making of Run Granny Run, a film about political activist Doris Haddock

Granny D

And check out Michele's interview with documentarian Marlo Poras about the making of Run Granny Run, a film about political activist Doris "Granny D" Haddock.

It's no ordinary day when a 90-year old grandmother sets out on a walk across the United States to make a point, and Doris "Granny D" Haddock is no ordinary woman. The protagonist of Run Granny Run spent 14 months in 2000 on her cross-country journey to bring attention to campaign finance reform.

Airing Your Dirty Laundry

The complicated ethics of making a film about your family

Doug Block and his mom

Family secrets are kind of like community secrets,” observes filmmaker and Duke University professor Tom Rankin. “The energy that guards them really inflates their value.” In Airing Your Dirty Laundry, Erin Trahan talks with filmmakers Doug Birch (51 Birch Street) and Lucia Small (My Father, The Genius) about the difficult choices they were compelled to make when they decided to make films about their families.

Doug Block wasn’t sure he had a film yet. His mother had passed away and he was videotaping his father’s move from the family home for posterity. Block had every reason to believe his parents’ 54-year marriage was happy. Then, riding next to his father one afternoon, he asked, “Do you miss mom?”

“No, I can’t say I miss her,” said his father, staring straight ahead.

His Muse is the Rule of Law

A conversation with James Cooper of Proyecto Acceso, which blends media and social justice

Law and Border: James Cooper uses film to promote the rule of law in Latin America.

"I used to be a lawyer who wanted to be an artist, but then I went to therapy. Now I am an artist whose medium is the rule of law. That sounds so pretentious, I want to puke." So says California law professor James Cooper, who talks with Mike Hofman about how his grassroots group, Proyecto Acceso, uses various forms of media—including documentary film, reality television, music videos, and animation—to promote the rule of law in Latin America.

James Cooper is one of those globetrotting guys who has more stamps in his passport than you do. A Cambridge-educated Canadian who now teaches law at California Western School of Law in San Diego, Cooper spends much of his time organizing media-related projects in Latin America, where he teaches people how to use everything from documentary films and reality TV shows, to public service announcements and animated work, to promote concepts related to the rule of law. Cooper's group, which he runs from his law school perch and an office in Santiago, Chile, is called Proyecto Acceso.

A Conversation with Les Blank

David Tamés talks with the filmmaker about his experiences with Werner Herzog, why he self distributes, and which of his films he considers his favorite

Still of All in this Tea

David Tamés asks Flower Films pioneer Les Blank about his one-time subject, Werner Herzog; filming his latest, All in This Tea, digitally and in China; and why he self-distributes his films. To view a clip from All in This Tea or any of the films mentioned in this month's feature articles, visit the Watch page.

In his new film All In This Tea, director Les Blank operates at the far extremes of technology, using digital video to explore an old-world subject matter: artisan, handmade tea.

Q/A: Chris Hegedus, Nick Doob, and D.A. Pennebaker

In 1993, The Independent ran a story about The War Room, directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker. The film followed Bill Clinton’s 1992 election campaign from inside campaign headquarters.

Q&A - James Schamus

James Schamus on Brokeback Mountain, Focus Features, and the rest of his legacy.

Writer, producer, and film executive James Schamus has had about as brilliant a career in independent film as they come, and it just keeps getting better.

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