Black Gold

Black Gold


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The chances are that over the course of the day before you go to see this film, you'll drink several cups of coffee. An estimated two billion are consumed worldwide every day. But do you ever stop to wonder where they come from? Black Gold takes us to the heart of the coffee trade, focusing on one small workers' co-operative in Ethiopia and examining the route which coffee takes on its way into cafes in London and New York. Along the way, it increases in price more than a hundredfold.

If you're somebody who already makes an effort to buy fair trade products, you may have some idea of how difficult things are for coffee growers in the Third World, but Black Gold really brings the point home by showing us their day to day lives in parallel with those of the end-of-line coffee consumers.

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Its great skill is in presenting them not as peasants whose way of life is fundamentally different from our own, but as ordinary people with modest but recognisable ambitions: to have clean water, to put their children through school, to buy shoes to protect their feet in the plantations. These people are not poor because they're stupid - once the true value of coffee is explained to them they're perfectly capable of understanding the market dynamics at work - but their circumstances make it extremely difficult for them to bargain effectively. If given a fair return for their work, they argue, they and the vast majority of other Africans would no longer be dependent on aid. They want to be in a position to teach their children the ethical importance of working rather than begging.

Black Gold presents a richly detailed portrait of the coffee industry, all the way from Ethiopia to the barista competitions and fashionable coffee houses of the West. It is packed full of facts, impeccably researched and presented in such a way as to let viewers draw their own conclusions; but perhaps because of this cautious approach, it lacks the emotional punch which we might expect from a documentary of this type. One comes away from it feeling that one ought to be angrier, somehow, but we never get to know anyone in the film well enough to side passionately with their cause.

Where Black Gold does exhibit passion is in its approach to coffee itself. Clearly made by coffee lovers, it's full of lush visuals and elegant descriptions which risk driving you out of the cinema in search of a cup before it's finished saying its piece. Stay, and hear it out, because this is a message which goes further than just the coffee industry, and it's one which everybody ought to be aware of, even if this isn't the most successful of films at putting it across.

Reviewed on: 01 Jun 2007
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A documentary examining the inequities of the coffee trade.
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Director: Marc Francis, Nick Francis

Writer: Lisa Ko, Eric Martin

Starring: Terrence Howard

Year: 2006

Runtime: 78 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK, US

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