The statistics are staggering. Approximately 2bn cups of coffee are drunk in the world every day. Coffee is the largest trading commodity in the world after oil. It generates sales of $80bn annually.

In Ethiopia 15m people depend on the coffee industry for survival. Coffee comprises 67% of Ethiopia's export income. The average Ethiopian coffee farmer receives less than 3 US Cents for a $3 cup of coffee.

With all that in mind, 'Black Gold' will be the most important film you'll see this year. It will make you feel sad and angry. It will fill you with despair and admiration. It will make you remember how lucky you are in your own life. Hopefully it will make you think before you drink.

Shot over the course of two years, documentary-making brothers Mark and Nick Francis explored the world coffee trade - from the sophistication in the West to the men harvesting the beans in Ethiopia. They chose to tell the story through the work of one man: Tadesse Mesekela.

The general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union, Mesekela spends his life travelling around the world on a quest to get a fair coffee price for the 74,000 farmers he represents. Because the world's coffee prices are decided on the futures exchanges in London and New York, Mesekela must bypass these two goliaths to try and find buyers who will pay more for high quality coffee. While your head will be in your hands, Mesekela never loses heart - even if you don't like coffee, after seeing this film you'll feel like you should start drinking Fair Trade blends in order to help him.

The Francis' film deftly blends the personal and political, from the wranglings at the WTO conference in Cancún in 2003 to the farmers who are trying to get a little more for their beans so that they can buy blackboards for their local school. Through the continuous contrasting of those with the money and those with none, the filmmakers provide a better wake-up than any blend. What's onscreen is made all the more shocking by the fact that the 'Big Four' coffee companies - Nestlé, Kraft, Sara Lee and Procter & Gamble - and retail giant Starbucks did not provide spokespersons for the film.  

One quote from Mesekela sums up why you need to find the time for 'Black Gold': "Our hope is one day the consumer will understand what they are drinking. Consumers can bring a change if awareness is given to consumers. It is not only on coffee, all products are getting a very low price - and the producers are highly affected."

Next time you're in a coffee queue complaining to yourself about how 'slow' the service is, just think about how long the farmers in this film are waiting for a fraction of what you're going to hand over the counter.

Harry Guerin

For more: www.blackgoldmovie.com
                www.oromiacoffeeunion.org

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