The premise of our first shoot was simple: giant roadside attractions were built to lure people, so we would answer that call and see what we found. We decided to begin in Minnesota, a state that has an inordinate number of statues claiming to be the World's Largest Something. Our itinerary started in Frazee, home of the World's Largest Turkey, and ended in the neighboring town of Vergas, which boasts a big loon. In between we'd hit the World's Largest Otter, Prairie Chicken, Coot, Pelican, Crow, Black Duck, three Paul Bunyans, a competing Loon (this one floated) and a dozen fish statues.
As it turned out, there were many more of these roadside attractions then we could possibly include, so we had to set a few ground rules. To warrant a visit a World's Largest had to be, first, a civic monument. To us, this meant it was made by, or for, its community. Second, the statue itself had to tie in with the economic, geographic or cultural histories of its town. Frazee, for example, has a giant turkey statue -- perfectly fitting given the fact that the local economy was long sustained by turkey farming and processing. Third, we had to think that it was cool looking. With our itinerary set, and armed with the phone numbers of various Chambers of Commerce and the location of every Perkins and AmericInn statewide, we took off on a road trip.
We arrived in Frazee at the start of Turkey Days, and we were glad we did. Otherwise, we would have missed the demolition derby, the street dance, the pageant and (to our great excitement) the free turkey luncheon for all. We learned that the first 'Turkey Tom' had been accidentally incinerated during some late night repairs and -- at great expense -- the town had a replacement built. The statue was important to this town. At the parade, Miss Frazee and her court rode atop a replica of the Turkey, followed by the parade float versions of the Vergas Loon and Pelican Rapids Pelican. It felt like we were on to something.
At the luncheon, between marching band performances, we learned more about Frazee. Once the home of a thriving turkey industry, Frazee had lost both its hatchery and its processing plant. The small population (under 1,500) was aging. 'We have so many widows in town here you wouldn't believe it,' we were told. Most intriguing, we learned that the World's Largest Turkey had been erected the year that the plant had closed. 'Turkey Tom' was a monument to Frazee's past, and even at this early stage in our own journey, we shared their confusion and concern looking towards the future.
We covered 4,000 in-state miles on that trip and while each place chose something different to celebrate, we knew we had the beginnings of one portrait of a place and time - small-town America at this moment. The big question became how to tell this larger story of a changing culture. The result, we believe, is a multi-layered tapestry of dozens of first person accounts that are candid, poignant, funny and sad; peppered with the images of these often-beautiful statues and the vanishing world they were built to represent.
Now, 20 states, 50 attractions and six years later we're premiering at SXSW. We are excited to finally share it with an audience at the festival and beyond. We hope that people will leave the screening thinking about these places, and consider visiting them before they're gone.
For further information please go to: http://www.worldslargestdoc.com/