‘Black Gold’ continues to be catalyst for change
June 2, 2007
The Sundance Documentary "Black Gold," and similar first-hand accounts of unfair labor practices in the coffee industry continue to ignite a chain of activism as well as action — in Park City.
Father Jim Flynn of St. Mary’s Church gives lectures throughout Utah on fair trade and the coffee growers in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Park City Coffee Roaster owners Robert and Ray Hibl say Flynn’s tales from his visits with farmers helped them decide to become fair trade certified in 2004. Deer Valley, Park City Mountain and Sundance resorts use the Hibls’ blends for their house brews. This year, the two local barristas report 75 percent of their beans are fairly traded, and they hope to reach 100 percent in the next few years.
At the 2006 Sundance Film Festival premiere of "Black Gold," the local roasters teamed up with the filmmakers. Then, during the Q and A, Park City doctor Paul Gardner donated $10,000 on the spot to a struggling Ethiopian schoolhouse featured in the film. He came to Park City in order to increase his influence as a role model, he says.
"I had faith that if I quit what I was doing and moved to Park City, an opportunity would present itself," he has told the Park Record.
An interview this week with director Nick Francis revealed that he is likewise something of a fatalist about his film, "Black Gold." Park City, and the Sundance Film Festival, "oxygenated" the documentary, he says, and helped it get noticed on a global scale. He says the free screening of the film at the Jim Santy Auditorium this Thursday "is poignant."
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"We didn’t know at that point that we’d still be talking about ‘Black Gold,’ 18 months later," he recalled. "The platform for us was really Park City It brought the story to the attention and the forefront of the world."
For this month alone, Francis reports the Web site for the film, http://www.blackgoldmovie.com , has received 50,000 hits. And next week he regrets he and his brother, co-director Marc Francis, won’t be able to attend the screening. They will be promoting the nation-wide release of their film in United Kingdom cinemas.
Paramount to the film’s popularity, however, has been the direct impact on the media and the companies themselves the ones that declined to be interviewed about the wages they pay farmers. In Sweden, Kraft, one of the largest coffee corporations in the world, came forward and talked to Francis after the film.
"The film doesn’t tell the audience what to think — it just simply shows a situation where there are winners and there are losers and it’s a story that hasn’t been told," Francis explained. "And then after the screening, what people tend to do, is they want to know what they can do as individuals it’s become a kind of catalyst for action."
Gardner’s $10,000 was matched by another donor, he says, and an entire school, once in danger of being closed, has been completed.
"Black Gold" concentrates on Ethiopia, a country whose economy depends on coffee, and the location said to be the birthplace of coffee. Tadesse Maskela runs a cooperative with a mission to increase profits for farmers. He understands multiple sides of the issue coffee buyers and growers.
His close proximity to the center of the coffee trade equips him with insights central to the film.
In "Black Gold" Maskela confronts a group of coffee farmers about the cost of a brewed cup of coffee. The farmers quote a price of 12 cents for a cup in their country, but cannot say what other countries might pay. In Western countries a cup of coffee is $2.90, responds Maskela. The group gasps at the price.
Yet at the heart of the matter is not the price of a cup, but how much the growers themselves get paid, says Francis.
The original impetus for the film came when Francis and his brother learned Ethiopia was facing a massive food shortage at the same moment the coffee industry became an $80 million annual venture.
"While hundreds of coffee shops were springing up on street corners of major cities, the people behind the product faced a humanitarian crisis. How could that be?" he recalls asking himself. "We wanted to tell a story that rooted what’s going on in places like Ethiopia into the heart of our everyday consumer lifestyle and to say that what’s going on in countries and places like Ethiopia is directly relevant to what we do as citizens every single day."
More change is necessary, according to Francis. "The much wider question is the lack of transparency in the coffee industry. Even today, most companies don’t want to engage in the real issue, which comes down to how much a coffee farmer makes."
Francis confesses he still cannot answer that question the one that lead him to a two-and-half year journey around the globe, with translators and a production crew. The largest players still keep those cards close to their vest. It is therefore up to the consumer, he says, to vote with their dollar.
"Black Gold" will screen at 7 p.m. at the Jim Santy Auditorium on Thursday, June 7, located at 1255 Park Avenue. The showing of the film is part of the Sundance Institute Documentary Series.
For more information, and to purchase a DVD of "Black Gold," visit http://www.blackgoldmovie.com .