World’s Largest


Rated: Unrated, but similar to a G

Running time: One hour, 15 minutes

A little movie with a big heart, “World’s Largest” is a brilliant documentary about small towns with big hopes.

Several of the small communities featured here are in Iowa. Many Quad-Citians probably have seen the “world’s largest strawberry” at Strawberry Point in person. The show takes a look at several folks talking about whatever “world’s largest” structure the town boasts, from a huge killer bee to a giant pan.

Filmmakers Amy C. Elliott and Elizabeth Donius took several years to create this gentle look at the plight of towns that sit along various American highways and hope to attract tourists and even jobs with the display of something that’s larger than life. There’s a big loon that’s structured quite unlike anything you’d see in nature and a huge bull that blows out his own candles for his 40th birthday celebration.

The filmmakers move all across the country to capture the essence of each town and each object, some of which have been kept pristine while others have been damaged by wear and/or vandals.

Mostly, this is a movie about history. It’s about pride in small towns, and the imagination, creativity and work required to create something memorable that will help residents and tourists realize they are in a special place. “Every little town needs something special,” one person says.

The most controversial segment — indeed, one on which an entirely separate documentary could be based — centers on the concept of building a huge lava lamp in Soap Lake, Wash. The naysayers and the dreamers sometimes lock horns over this attraction, which, if my resources serve me correctly, has yet to be completed. “(Soap Lake) is one of the poorest towns in the county,” Mayor Wayne Hovde says.

“Communities like Hidalgo, we need it to get people to stop here,” a Hidalgo, Texas, resident says in reference to the community’s gigantic killer bee. (It marks the town as the place where the first colony of killer bees in the United States was discovered during 1990.)

One of the most tender scenes involves a farmer, truly proud of and concerned about the land, who recites a lovely poem. He is moved to tears with emotion and you might be, too.

I’ve been homesick ever since I saw this movie, because I, too, hail from a small town. Monmouth, Ill., has a lot of things going for it: Monmouth College, of course, and being the birthplace of Wyatt Earp.

Monmouth used to have a big steer on a restaurant and a big cowboy on a store, but those are gone now. Monmouth is still special. And so are all the little towns with big ideas that are featured here.

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