Black Gold Nick and Marc Francis

Black Gold is about the world’s other big commodity: coffee. This eye-opening documentary juxtaposes scenes from African jungles with Italian cafés and the New York Stock Exchange to paint a tapestry of Third World exploitation.

In untangling the web of global coffee production, the British filmmakers begin in the birthplace of coffee: Ethiopia. Two-thirds of Ethiopia’s exporting income is derived from this bean and thus plunging world prices are starving millions of farmers and their families. Crusader Tadesse Meskela runs a farmers co-op and travels the world selling their coffee at a decent rate. This means cutting out many of the middlemen who multiply the cost of coffee ten times from jungle to café.

Meskela is up against the stock markets of New York and London, which dictate how much baristas charge an oblivious public. One dreamy Starbucks manager in Seattle insists she isn’t in the coffee-serving industry but in the "people-touching business,” given how her coffee moves people’s lives. That’s true. The people of Sidama, Ethiopia, which supplies Starbucks its coffee beans, have been plunged into famine.

Western corporations aren’t the only culprits. The World Trade Organization stacks the deck against poor countries by dictating trade rules that exploit developing countries. In a rare sign of hope, the Third World is starting to reject these agreements.

Despite the gloom, there are moments of whimsy, like the World Barista Championships where nervous contestants compete like Olympians to interviews with the head of world-renown coffee maker Illy philosophising about brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

Black Gold may appear to be another rich North screwing the Third World documentary, but the filmmakers have done their homework and the film is compelling. After recent exposes on the oil and wine industries, Black Gold is a surprise look at what we consider an innocuous commodity. Think twice before you drink up. (Mongrel Media)