Black Gold

"Very Good"

Black Gold Review


You would never think that the growing and selling of coffee could be this important, or emotional. And yet, somehow, Nick and Marc Francis' documentary Black Gold is quite definitely both those things. A gorgeously-shot and melancholy look at the plight of a co-operative of Ethiopian coffee growers fighting for their fair share of the exploding international coffee market (sales have gone from $30 billion to $80 billion just since 1990), the film is just one of many salvos sure to be fired in the next few years that demand consumers to be accountable for what they buy and how they buy it. And no, Starbucks is not the answer.

The modest hero of Black Gold is Tadesse Meskela, an enthusiastic fellow who travels the world trying to find better markets and decent prices for the co-op's 75,000 members, many of whom are living on next to nothing. Given that about two-thirds of Ethiopia's export revenue comes from coffee, any drop in price can have disastrous effects, and in an international market dominated by a few multinationals like Nestle, the little farmers often have little to no bargaining power and end up selling their carefully picked crops for mere pennies a kilo. Although companies like Starbucks make claims about the fair prices they pay for their coffee -- part of the growing "Fair Trade" campaign -- many critics would contend that those prices are meaningless since they're usually paid to middlemen, who in turn offer only a fraction to the farmers themselves. Thusly Meskela's crusade to find buyers willing to pony up a good price for a good product.

The directors have a fun time contrasting the Western fetishization of coffee and espresso -- most entertainingly at the unintentionally hilarious World Barista Championship, an event of nearly epic stupidity -- with the stolid, hardworking Ethiopians and the world-trotting Meskela, who knows that just getting his farmers 50 cents a kilo for their product would be enough to change their poverty-stricken lives forever. The stakes are raised even higher by his knowledge that if he fails, more of his farmers will be pushed to use their land for growing the highly addictive and very profitable drug chat. The even worse case scenario is that the co-op's farmers would have to give up their farming entirely and be forced to rely on Western emergency aid handouts.

Black Gold's strongest point is perhaps this implied but unspoken one: wouldn't it be cheaper and more humane in the end for the wealthy West to simply pay a few cents more for coffee beans (not even charity, as the film makes clear, just very simply paying what a product is worth), thusly helping to sustain an economy producing a highly desirable product, instead of waiting for the farmers to fall on hard times and then spending millions on last-minute aid? Black Gold shows that fighting for human rights can sometimes be as simple as paying more for your morning coffee.

Texas Tea, anyone?


Black Gold

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Friday 8th June 2007

Box Office Worldwide: $5.4M

Distributed by: California Newsreel

Production compaines: Doha Film Institute, The

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 41 Rotten: 8

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Marc Francis, Nick Francis

Producer: Marc Francis, Nick Francis, Christopher Hird, Oistein Thorsen, Claire Lewis

Starring: as Sultan Amar, as Emir Nesib, as Leyla, as Auda, as Ali, Lotfi Dziri as Sheikh of Bani Sirri

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