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Bill's Big Pumpkins
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by brianorndorf

"Pumpkins of the Gods"
4 stars

When I write that Bill Foss grows big pumpkins, I mean that in the most monstrous, awe-inspiring, nature-questioning way. These are the kind of pumpkins that blow minds; often weighing around 1000 pounds, resembling fleshy, slumped orbs ready for the big show.

The documentary “Bill’s Big Pumpkins” follows Foss over the course of a year as he plans his gigantic pumpkin harvest for potential exhibition domination. A Buffalo, Minnesota native, Foss is an iconic Midwesterner: intensely reserved yet social, and a cutthroat competitor. He’s also a master pumpkin farmer (or, as he calls them, “punkins”), plowing the backyard of his home over and turning it into a symphony of agricultural wizardry, using years of research and acute observational skills to grow pumpkins of extraordinary girth.

Foss has simple goals for his orange planets, looking to win the coveted blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair (the finest state fair in America), and conquer various competitions in Austin and Stillwater, Minnesota, even taking his pumpkins to Iowa for a critical presentation. He’s a determined fellow, but kindly, enjoying the thrill of competition, but more enchanted by the possibilities of creative growth, lording over his 14-pumpkin harvest like a proud parent nurturing his children through an accelerated adolescence (captured with fantastic time-lapse photography).

Directors Ryan Foss and William Nagel not only deliver an informative and evocative look at the secrets of pumpkin augmentation (including sanding down the seeds and blowtorch weeding), but they get inside Foss’s mind as he hauls his breathtaking pumpkins around for show. Being a true Minnesotan, Foss isn’t one for demonstrative acts of emotion, but you can spot in his expressions and stance how hard he accepts his losses and how warmly he tastes his victories. From the exterior, Foss might seem like a simple man accomplishing great acts of fruit manipulation, but “Pumpkins” reveals a farmer with a competitive streak a mile wide, and a generous heart to match it.

I was stunned how much I was personally drawn into Foss’s journey. Outside of the fact that his pumpkins are astonishing creations of extreme care and examination, his passion for the patch is delightful to witness, and you feel the hurt along with Foss as frost nips the patch or hail rains down from the heavens, threatening the pumpkins during critical growth spurts.

Though modest in design, “Bill’s Big Pumpkins” is a thoroughly comfy, charming documentary, superbly crafted to extract the most smiles and wonder it can possibly squeeze out. Foss’s next effort is to tackle the world’s record for largest pumpkin. After watching his passion and concentration in this documentary, he seems like the perfect choice for the honor.


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originally posted: 11/02/07 17:53:15
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Directed by
  Ryan Foss
  William R. Nagel

Written by

  Linda Foss
  William Ebnet

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