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BLACK GOLD

Director: MARC FRANCIS & NICK FRANCIS

U.K. • 2006 • COLOUR • DIGITAL VIDEO • 78 MIN


AS COFFEE DRINKERS KNOW, NOT ALL BEANS ARE EQUAL, BUT THE MEANING OF INEQUALITY GETS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SPIN IN MARC AND NICK FRANCIS’S HANDSOME AND ASTUTE DOCUMENTARY.
The British brothers study where some of the world’s finest beans are grown and how they’re marketed, and ask why people producing such a first-class product live in near-starvation conditions. In particular, Black Gold tells of the fair-trade coffee movement, in which growers arrange to directly receive a higher percentage of sales revenues by cutting out as many middlemen as possible. As representative of the Oromo Coffee Farmers Co-op Union, which embraces 74 southern Ethiopian co-ops and more than 70,000 farmers, Tadesse Meskela travels between the grassroots and the international market buying his groups’ prized beans. He’s in the ideal position to observe the growers’ thin margin of survival and, contrapuntally, third-party brokers representing such giants as Nestle and Kraft working in tandem with the coffee commodity exchanges to maintain low prices. In the background is the decade-long explosion in demand, which has turned such once-humble affairs as Starbucks into symbols of global Yank dominance. Rather than venting and indulging in easy anti-corporate potshots, this sober documentary is more interested in Meskela’s honest efforts to work every angle to get the coops the best possible return by bypassing the commodity exchanges and working closely with buyers. The Francises are aces behind the camera, displaying an elegant sense of composition that makes their subject visually ravishing. Andreas Kapsalis’s gorgeous score lends grandeur to the film’s outstanding technical and educational qualities. —Robert Koehler.

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