- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

“Black Gold” sounds like a good idea: a documentary about how Ethiopian coffee farmers are struggling to support their families while Western corporations skim the fat off the developed world’s $4-latte-a-day habit.

Unfortunately, filmmakers Nick and Marc Francis produce a mild brew that preaches more than teaches, leaving audiences drowning in a watery, muddled discussion of too many issues. A tighter focus could have caffeinated the punch line a bit better.

The lead story line follows one man fighting for farmers’ livelihoods, the likable Ethiopian coffee co-op manager Tadesse Meskela. Intelligent, well-spoken and seemingly very altruistic, Mr. Meskela is a man of the people who is also a savvy businessman — a poster child for the fair-trade movement’s future. We watch as he travels worldwide in attempts to knock out the coffee middlemen and, therefore, deliver a larger profit and better future to the workers he represents — more than 70,000 people.

Around this central character, the film spins a bit out of control. It flirts with everything from Africa’s famines to the World Trade Organization’s role in leveling the global playing field, Starbucks’ branding prowess to Italy’s coffee cultism, the commodities market’s harried trading floor to Ethiopia’s decrepit schools. Some vignettes, such as the bizarre World Barista Championship, warrant their own feature films. Others, like the obvious attack on Starbucks, simply require more explanation: Don’t they sell fair-trade coffee? Aren’t they committed to corporate social responsibility?

Furthermore, Ethiopia is touted as “the birthplace of coffee,” but instead of providing historical background explaining how the country’s coffee trade was established, the film offers only hints of what has contributed to its collapse.

“Black Gold” may succeed in inspiring some moviegoers to further research the Ethiopian situation and fair-trade coffee (which safeguards farmers in a number of ways, from setting a minimum price to stipulating certain working conditions). Ultimately, though, the flick stirs up more questions than it answers.

**

TITLE: “Black Gold”

RATING: Not rated (some mildly disturbing images of starvation)

CREDITS: Directed by Marc and Nick Francis

RUNNING TIME: 78 minutes

WEB SITE: www.blackgoldmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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