Black Gold

“As coffee drinkers know, not all beans are equal, but the meaning of inequality gets an entirely different spin in Marc and Nick Francis’ handsome and astute documentary.” — Robert Koehler, Variety
Year: 2006
Country: UK
Running time: 77 mins
Photography: Marc Francis, Nick Francis
Editor: Hugh Williams
Sound: Gerard Abeille
Music: Andreas Kapsalis
In English, Ethiopian and Italian, with English subtitles

With: Tadesse Meskela, Dr Ernesto Illy

Festivals: Sundance 2006
Black Gold is a persuasive and sobering investigation of the world coffee trade, from the hype and glitz of the World Barista Championships to the Ethiopian farmers who grow the world’s finest coffee beans yet live in near starvation. Since 1990, there has been an explosion in demand for coffee, to the point where globally, more than two billion cups of coffee are drunk each day. Over the same period, thanks to the fierce coffee commodities market and a collapse of international agreements governing the coffee trade, the price paid to farmers has fallen to a 30-year low. A comprehensive and beautifully shot account of the trade, Black Gold centres on the travails of Tadesse Meskela, who represents a co-operative of more than 70,000 Ethiopian farmers. Meanwhile, brokers for such coffee giants as Nestlé and Kraft – in tandem with the coffee commodity exchanges in New York and London, where daily prices are set – work to keep prices down and profits up. Coffee prices have fallen so far in Ethiopia (said to be the birthplace of coffee) that many families who have grown coffee for centuries are turning instead to more lucrative narcotic crops.

“As these hard-working people strive to keep the rich cultural heritage of their country intact by continuing to harvest some of the highest-quality coffee beans available, Tadesse travels the world in an attempt to find a fair price for the fruits of their labour. This seemingly Sisyphean endeavour takes him on an international journey to some of the biggest coffee marketplaces in the world, where he discovers that there are no easy solutions for the trade issues facing his impoverished countrymen.” — Adam Montgomery, Sundance Film Festival