When we travel the world, we follow our obsessions—art, music, and film. But we tip our hats explorers with different obsessions in mind, like Elizabeth Donius and Amy Elliott, the filmmakers behind the upcoming documentary, “World’s Largest”. Instead of following in the footsteps of famous artists or tracking down the original film locations of Kung-Fu classics, Donius and Elliott hunt bigger game—the weird and wonderful monuments small towns create in order to put them on the map as the home of the largest strawberry, the longest hokey stick, or the world’s largest otter. But, as the documentary reveals, these two filmmakers have found a lot more than over-sized fruits or gargantuan concrete rodents.
From Hidalgo, Texas, home of the world’s largest killer bee, to Wahpeton, North Dakota, home of the world’s largest catfish, to the sands of Pismo Beach, California (where you can find a massive clam sculpture), the duo has crisscrossed the United States seeking out these tiny burgs and their large public works. What emerges is a portrait of American small-town life where diminishing manufacturing opportunities, increased globalization, and a strange sense of being left behind in our brave, new interconnected world compels private citizens and municipal boards alike to commission the “world’s largest” this or that simply for a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records and an outside chance at drawing in tourists and opening their wallets. Civic pride is important when your population is only in the four or five-digit range, and in the middle of America’s information deluge, a massive lava lamp (Soap Lake, Washington) or jackrabbit (Odessa, Texas) near your town hall may be the quickest, most positive way to roadside-attraction fame. The other side of the coin is that many of these monuments—the Pismo Beach clam, the boll weevil of Enterprise, Alabama—represent exports or industries that once flourished in those towns. They were totems of times of prosperity, of parades gone by. As sad as all this sounds, what “World’s Largest” promises is something very positive—the uniquely American tendency to recast one’s self and one’s surroundings in epic terms, the will to strive and excel that, for better or worse, defines our national character. Pretty heady stuff for a movie starring ordinary Americans, a trio of Paul Bunyans, and the world’s largest turkey (Frazee, Minnesota).
“World’s Largest” will screen at the upcoming SXSW Film Festival. For more information go to www.worldslargestdoc.com. For travel guides that follow our obsessions with art, music, and movies, head over to our online store.
Top—Director of “World’s Largest” Elizabeth Donius along with the world’s largest hockey stick in Eveleth, MN.
Bottom (clockwise from upper left): The world’s largest buffalo in Jamestown, ND, the world’s largest otter in Fergus Falls, MN, the world’s largest jackrabbit, Odessa, TX, the world’s largest goose, Sumner, MO.
All images courtesy of World’s Largest Productions.