Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tadesse Meskela, Dr. Ernesto Illy
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Marc Francis, Nick Francis
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: English, Ethiopian, Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 78
Date: 03/18/2013

Black Gold (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Smelling the Coffee

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

First time filmmakers Marc and Nick Francis direct this engaging documentary about Ethiopian coffee farmers and their struggle for fair trade. The brothers reveal an inquisitive filmic style, exploring and following characters rather than grilling them with interview questions. And they have found a compelling lead character with Tadesse Meskela, who represents a giant co-op (encompassing 74 farms and over 70,000 farmers). Meskela travels the world over, inspecting sacks of beans and meeting with potential buyers, while his wife praises his dedication and complains about his constant absence. Yet the filmmakers present a one-sided story, assuming that corporations are evil without doing the legwork to find out why and how. They sprinkle their film with random, loaded images of rich white people leisurely sipping their cups of coffee, presumably ignorant about where it came from and how little the workers are being paid. Still, Black Gold is a hopeful, informative film and it suggests that coffee consumers can actually help by buying only fair trade goods. The film opens today for a run at San Francisco's Roxie Cinema.

Note: please also see my longer review at

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