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June 13, 2006

Black Gold, 2006

blackgold.gifA bold, impassioned, no-holds-barred look at the profoundly deleterious effects of artificial price setting by commodities trading in western financial markets (most notably New York and London) and the inherent inequity of the World Trade Organization's policies on the livelihood of impoverished farmers in developing countries, Black Gold traces the lucrative coffee trail to its humble origins in Ethiopia at the plateaus of Yirgacheffe where a genial, dedicated businessman and tireless fair trade advocate, Tadesse Meskele visits one of the many small farms that make up the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union whose interests he represents at international markets, corporate sales, and trade shows. Citing the World Trade Organization's unjust practice of continuing to allow government farm subsidies in determining trade policies that economically favor the agricultural products of nations engaging in these subsidies - thereby undervaluing the true cost of the products and imposing a great disadvantage on developing nations from competing fairly in the world market - Meske serves as a guide to the sobering reality of increasingly abject conditions and constant threat of famine faced by these farming communities, as infrastructures for clean, potable water, medical facilities (including financially strapped, volunteer crisis centers forced to turn away "moderately" malnourished children in order to maintain enough provisions to treat the severely malnourished), and plans for opening schools remain on perpetual hold as the villagers are unable to raise enough money to sustain even the most basic quality of life projects in their community, even as Ethiopian coffee is still highly regarded as one of the finest coffees in the world, and coffee itself has become a popular staple on the commodities exchange and a booming global industry. Contrasting the image of desperate farmers receding ever deeper into poverty - or worse, turning away from coffee farming towards the more lucrative market of narcotic plants - as the paper-based commodities exchange price remains artificially low (an imposed, non market-based price system used by international suppliers of most major coffee companies to undercut the purchase price of coffee offered to farmers) against the images of curious, but ultimately superficial barista competitions, connoisseur taste tests (where the flavor of Ethiopian coffee is invariably singled out by the judges), and Seattle coffee tours that trace the genesis of Starbucks, filmmakers Nick Francis and Marc Francis presents an audacious, trenchant, and unapologetic examination of corporate exploitation, economic imperialism, and the myth of globalism.

For more information, please visit the film's website. Additionally, Tadesse Meskele indicated during the Q&A that the Oromia cooperative's coffees can be purchased through Massachusetts-based, fair trade coffee roasters Dean's Beans.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 13, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Human Rights Watch


Fascinating, Acquarello.

As you know, I work at a Jesuit liberal arts college, and many of our students are involved in community service projects. One common project deals with raising awareness of, promoting and selling fair trade coffee on campus. (They also get graded on how well they manage this project.)

This would be an ideal film to screen for them, and require as part of their course.
I checked out the website you linked to it; they even have a forum.
I'm wondering: maybe I missed it at the site, but has it been picked up for distribution?

Posted by: girish on Jun 13, 2006 6:57 PM | Permalink

Hey Girish - yeah, the brothers mentioned that they were so busy promoting the film that they haven't had time to update it, so the site's not quite complete. They did say though to keep an eye on it (or sign up for email announcements) because there's more content to come, such as the stuff on Dean's Beans, and how several corporations are now misappropriating the fair trade label, when only a small percentage of their coffee is. If I remember the Q&A comment correctly, there was apparently some stir about Nestlé UK using the fair trade label across all their products, when only a small percentage of a little distributed product in their entire product line actually was. Starbucks apparently does this too, even though only 1% of their coffee is, and they have indicated that they have no intention of increasing the percentage.

Anyway, they did mentioned that the film is opening later this year (sometime in October or November I believe) at the Film Forum, with the hope of getting wider distribution after that.

Posted by: acquarello on Jun 13, 2006 8:28 PM | Permalink

Ah, the intrigue grows deeper. Didn't know about the misappropriation.
(Not that I'm surprised!)

I'll keep an eye out for it, for sure. Thanks.

Posted by: girish on Jun 13, 2006 9:19 PM | Permalink

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