Documentary Filmmaker & Public Speaker
Director/Producer at Wicked Delicate Films LLC
Co-Founder of Truck Farm, FoodCorps, Yale Sustainable Food Project
Winner of the Heinz & Peabody Awards
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Ian Cheney is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, environmental advocate and public speaker currently based in Brooklyn, NY.
Ian grew up in Massachusetts and Maine and received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Yale University. At Yale, Ian was a founder of the nationally renowned Yale Sustainable Food Project, co-chair of the 501c3 Yale Student Environmental Coalition, and a member of the Viola Question improvisational comedy troupe. He attended the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg and studied food markets in Sénégal, but also continued his passion for photography back home, composing nighttime portraits New England at night with support from a university arts fund.
After college, Ian teamed up with longtime friend Curt Ellis and filmmaker Aaron Woolf to produce King Corn, a feature documentary about the crop underpinning America’s fast-food diet. In what The Washington Post calls “Required viewing for anyone planning to visit a supermarket, fast-food joint, or their own refrigerator,” the filmmakers learn to drive a combine, cash in on government subsidies, and homebrew high-fructose corn syrup. Their Peabody-winning findings, shared with theatergoers in 60 cities and in a PBS national broadcast, have been influential in changing the way Americans eat.
Cheney subsequently directed The Greening of Southie, a feature documentary that follows Boston’s first residential green building through the story of the union crews that set out to construct it—and then struggle to hold it together as the project threatens to unravel. Broadcast on Earth Day on the Sundance Channel and released on DVD by A&E, The Greening of Southie is a hard-edged and humorous look at how green jobs might just turn America’s toughest-looking workers into softie environmentalists.
Cheney’s third feature documentary, The City Dark, explores the disappearance of darkness and the ecological and human impacts of light pollution. Blending stunning astrophotography with explorations of cancer studies, wildlife ecology and urban design, the film reveals that our city lights might be affecting much more than our view of the Milky Way. After the film’s premiere at the 2011 South by Southwest Film Festival, The City Dark was released theatrically in 25 cities, broadcast nationwide on PBS’ POV, and shared with communities in over 200 grassroots screenings. The New York Times named The City Dark a 2012 “Critics Pick.”
Cheney also created Truck Farm. What started as a simple garden-in-a-pickup became a grassroots education project: over 25 gardens-on-wheels have joined the fleet, each traveling to schools and farmer’s markets to advance the project’s core message: growing food can be fun, rewarding, and not as hard as you might think. Cheney’s own Truck Farm has been displayed at the USDA, the Smithsonian, Sotheby’s and the US Botanic Garden in Washington. As the centerpiece of the annual “Truck Farm Garden Contest” judged by Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and Marion Nestle, Truck Farm has inspired thousands of students across the US to plant their first seed in the most creative place they can imagine. Cheney’s 50-minute Truck Farm film has won accolades worldwide and was broadcast on Outside TV.
When not making films with his small production company in Brooklyn, Cheney travels extensively to share his projects and speak on issues of sustainability. He has appeared on or been featured in CNN, MSNBC, Good Morning America, NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook, NPR’s Weekend Edition, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and more. A co-founder and board member of FoodCorps, a national farm to school program connecting young people with healthful food, Cheney also creates short films for groups and companies with a focus on sustainability. In 2011, Ian and longtime collaborator Curt Ellis were given the Heinz Award for their work advocating for a better food system.
An enthusiastic keynote speaker and visiting lecturer, Cheney has presented his work at a range of venues from Qatar to Chile, Bosnia to Vietnam. He teaches an annual course at the Università degli studi di Scienze Gastronomiche in Italy, gives frequent workshops on grassroots filmmaking, and leads discussions with communities young and old. His visits to campuses, symposiums and film fests often feature a humorous, media-rich keynote presentation exploring the human connection to the natural world — through food and agriculture, the built environment, and the night sky.
His three new films, Bluespace, The Search for General Tso, and Melungeons are slated for completion in 2013.