"A Film About Coffee" is a love letter to, and meditation on, specialty coffee. It examines what it takes, and what it means, for coffee to be defined as "specialty." The film whisks ... See full summary »
A phenomenal discourse on why poverty exists when there is so much wealth in the world. A must see for anyone wanting to understand not only the US economic system but the foundations of today's global economy.
Despite the compelling subject, the film surprisingly lacks impact while failing to structure its case in an effective manner
If I may begin with a quote from The Wire I will because, when considering this film the phrase "all the pieces matter" did come to my mind. The film presents itself as another in a recent line of documentaries that very much appeal to people of my demographic because it puts an unacceptable situation in front of us and challenges the way we live our lives and allow our lives to be lived. In the case of Black Gold, the subject is coffee and, as a "fair trade" buyer of some time I was looking to have my opinion of the subject informed.
The structure of the film looks at coffee in Ethiopia, Seattle, London and so on as it paints a picture of situation where what the growers get paid is a shameful pittance compared to the amount the western coffee drinker would pay for even a home-made cup from granules. It should be shockingly compelling stuff and I was astonishing to find that it was not at all like this. It is maybe a failing in the structure because the makers seem to have had great access to the subject through Tadessa Meskela, who leads a cooperative of Ethiopian coffee farmers. This does mean that we spend too much time at his level and seeing things with his eyes, which works but is not the best way of carrying the film. Of course this needs to be part of it but it is almost the all.
What it badly needed was a much wider view. OK the corporations unsurprisingly did not wish to take part in this film but it badly needs some evidence of them and their role in the pricing. Without this focus the film doesn't really offer many answers or present a driver for the terrible situations it lets us see. To some viewers I'm sure this will be praise worthy because a documentary need not be about emotion and banging a drum but this does not mean it needs to be lacking in heart just because it is not a Michael Moore polemic. The lack of heart does not come from the subject but rather the delivery; it is a bit all over the place and I'm not entirely sure what some section were designed to achieve a tasting in Starbucks seems like time wasted in an already short run time.
Overall then this is a so-so film but given the subject and the plight of the growers, even the kindest viewer would admit this film is more missed potential than delivery. Positive reviews tend to praise it for its intension and I do not begrudge them this. The proof though, is in the pudding and that is where the film should be judged. Sadly it is poorly structure and doesn't ever get a handle on the subject in a way that isn't that compelling or challenging and considering everything that is a shocking failure.
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