When Amy Elliott and Elizabeth Donius set out to make World’s Largest, a captivating and very funny documentary about small towns across America that claim to have the world’s largest item (like the world’s largest pecan, for example, in Missouri), they were driven to make the film because of their mutual love for kitschy roadside attractions.
Usually displayed on the sides of major highways, “world’s largest” structures proudly tout a town’s claim to fame – World’s Largest features footage of the world’s largest African killer bee, lemon and buffalo statues, just to name a few. But as the filmmakers, who have been friends since middle school, started interviewing small-town mayors and proud Chamber of Commerce members, they realized a common thread among small towns across America: the nagging sense that small-town life is vanishing and that the idyllic life most small towns used to be able to brag about is eroding.
As they crisscrossed America, off and on, for six years, they came across Soap Lake, Washington, where one unrelenting resident decided the town should host the world’s largest lava lamp in downtown Soap Lake; the filmmakers managed to capture that alternately delightful and frustrating process as the town struggles with its identity and whether the world’s largest lava lamp is something anyone would ever travel to Soap Lake to see.
SXSW: The movie is really funny, but the point you’re making is pretty serious, that America’s small towns are in trouble and vanishing. How did you get interested in that topic?
Elliott: That evolved over the course of the shoot. People were all saying the same things about their peril and their fears of the future and it really happened for us going there. It was not what we started with.
Here in Alabama, they included the peach water tower in Clanton and the boll weevil statue in Enterprise – this is my pic of it, below: