Filmmakers serve up steaming documentary on coffee
British filmmakers Marc and Nick Francis want those who see their documentary "Black Gold" at Sundance to feel a new connection with those who grow the crops that sustain the world’s second most heavily traded commodity.
Ultimately, they also hope the film’s exposure at the festival, and subsequent distribution, will lead consumers to assume a greater sense of responsibility for the way the market currently exploits many of the farmers who grow the beans that fuel a $70 billion industry.
That said, Nick Francis emphasizes, they are "NOT trying to make people feel guilty."
"We didn’t try to preach, we wanted to take people on a journey they may never have been on before," he said.
That journey began in Ethiopia in 2003, 20 years after the famine that indelibly painted the country as a perennially poverty stricken country, constantly in need of international aid.
There, the 27-year-old filmmaker and his brother discovered that local coffee growers were struggling against a 30-year low market price for their back-breaking labor, despite the fact that consumption of premium coffee was at an all-time high.
In their quest to document the poverty and anguish experienced by coffee growers in the region, the two also met Tadesse Meskela, who represented a number of Ethiopian coffee growers and was trying to bypass some of the multinational corporations that were exploiting his countrymen.
Using their own resources, at first, they followed Meskela to London and Seattle to film his efforts to sell directly to buyers. The brothers also took their small DV cameras and lightweight kits to a world trade talks in Cancun, Mexico where Ethiopia’s leaders where developing countries were demanding changes to the trade rules that impede their ecomonies.
In 2004, the pair, who Nick admits did not attend film school, assembled some of their footage and a proposal and submitted it to the Sundance Institute in hopes of receiving a grant to continue the project.
The resulting grant money and guidance from Sundance, Nick Francis says, "was a lifeline."
"It made it possible to go back to Ethiopia, to develop the narrative and go to the United States where the price of arabica coffee is established."
The makers of "Black Gold" also got a boost from Sundance during last summer’s composers lab. There they met the composer Andreas Kapsalis who, after collaborating at Sundance, then wrote a score for the film.
"The music is something we want to be a major character in the film," said Nick Francis who extolled the composers lab for giving him, "the opportunity to think creatively in that environment in the company of mentors whose work is respected all over the world."
He noted, too, that the film’s small crew all worked below industry rates because of their "passion" for the project.
"We are more connected than we think and coffee is one of the strongest points of interconnectivity we have&Ultimately our film is rooted in a universal experience, when you drink a cup of coffee it opens up a whole new world," said Nick in a recent telephone interview from London.
The filmmakers hope their documentary will help audiences see Ethiopia and other poorer countries in a new light. "People want to be able to get a fair price for their work. Trade is more important to them than aid," said Nick Francis, adding that his goal is to make people more aware of their role as consumers.
"There is a disconnect with what we consume. By default we are part of a global economy and we have a responsibility&Fair trade is a start not an end," he added.
"Black Gold" will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday, Jan. 24. According to Nick Francis, "We can’t wait to go&Ideally it will be picked up by a distributor and seen all over the world." A trailer for the film can be viewed by logging on to http://www.blackgoldmovie.com .
"Black Gold" directed by Marc Francis and Nick Francis will be shown:
Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2:30 p.m. Holiday Village Cinema II, Park City
Wednesday, Jan.25, midnight, Holiday Village Cinema IV, Park City
Thursday, Jan. 26, 6:15 p.m. Holiday Village Cinema III, Park City
Sunday, Jan. 29, 10 a.m., Screening room, Sundance Resort
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