Saturday, April 28, 2007

[SIFF] Black Gold

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

When you sip on that aromatic cup of coffee, do you think about where it all comes from? 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed on an average day, and I'm sure many of us have contributed our daily cuppas to that statistic as shared by the documentary Black Gold by Marc and Nick Francis. From the ordinary black coffee at the local coffeeshop, to gourmet, fanciful concoctions at the nearest Starbucks (there's this new banana mix in town now), Black Gold takes you on a journey of the world's coffee trade, from the consumers right down to the farmers who toil their fields to give us those beans.

But who makes the most out of this trade? The multicorporations of course, fingered and identified in this film as money grabbers. We are taken on a tour of the vast coffee fields in Ethiopia, and Tadesse Meskela is our guide, as he shows us the conditions that the farmers have to work with, and the meagre amounts of money they are making to make ends meet, while the rest of the world gulps our coffee, parting with a few dollars while they make less than a cent. The demand and supply mechanics seem to be imbalanced, no doubt with prices made artificially high on the commodities trader market in New York and London, with none trickling down to the tail end for the suppliers.

Tadesse Meskela's objective is to band the farmers around a co-operative so as to be able to negotiate better prices. They're not on a mission to make prices rocket, but just a few dollars more would improve the livelihood of the farmers tremendously, and to enable their children to have decent education. It's also about the attempts to remove the multi-layered middleman chain (up to 6 links), and I've always been a proponent to eradicate the middle sections because unless they value add, there's no point swelling the pockets of those who does what I deem a "postman's job".

There are a few points which provides starking contrasts between the haves and have nots. What I thought was sly, was the showcasing of Starbucks, its first outlet and its star performers raving about how much opportunity they have etc, versus the source of Starbuck's coffee from Ethiopia, where massive famine is experienced by those in that region. I guess in a capitalist world, those who have money will continue to exploit, and will continue doing so as long as the bottomline is not affected.

However, Black Gold lacked that strike in that emotional chord. It's pure "here's the problem" without offering much, loaded with clinical facts and figures printed on screen. While it showed how difficult the folks down the supply chain are having, that's basically it. We're the clueless consumers as depicted in the documentary who couldn't care less, and that basically summed it up, given its lack of that final sucker punch to ring the message home.

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