May. 15, 2007 - Issue #604: A River Runs Through It
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No matter what stats Black Gold presses through to enliven its brew, the real eye-opener is the stark contrast between the coffee farmers of Ethiopia and the coffee aficionados of the West.
When we see the rutted dirt road that leads us into the heart of Ethiopia’s coffee-producing south up against neon-washed streets of London, when we see the cosmopolitan Tadesse Meskela talk about keeping cows and his connection to farming up against the harried international barista competitors, it’s difficult to reconcile the differences.
One of three films to be shown at the Fair Trade Fair Film Fest, Black Gold is good entry point into the fair trade dialogue. As co-directors and brothers Nick and Marc Francis volley back and forth, from East to West, from oppressive poverty to excessive decadence, we can see all of the rationale in making trade an equitable venture for all parties. It just doesn’t make sense for richer countries to not pay a living wage to those serving up a strong cup of luxury. Because even though many of us can’t seem to function without our morning cup of joe, it is still a luxury.
The brothers Francis also take their film to the 2003 WTO talks in Cancun, and in a couple of telling scenes we can figure out why Africa, a continent rich in resources and people, has become the only continent to become poorer in the last couple of decades.
When the talks broke down—many might argue inevitably—American trade representative Robert Zoellick delivered some harsh rhetoric about how the “won’t-do countries” created the impasse. It sounded quite frighteningly like the uppity-Negro rhetoric of past American segregation advocates.
When we actually look at the stats the directors are offering up, we learn that if Africa was able to increase its share of world trade to a meagre two per cent (up from one per cent), this would create $70 billion in much-needed revenue—five times more than is given in aid. We learn that giving the coffee farmers some 30 cents more per kilo, they would be able to do things like send their kids to school, instead of resorting to farming chat, a narcotic. Filmmakers Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre bring us news from Tijuana, Mexico in Maquilapolis. Here, we learn about factories set up by multinationals to harvest Mexico’s cheap labour.
In ensuring that their subjects speak to their own issues, the directors, however, tried something a little different. The factory workers in the film were involved in the process of making it, from planning to production.
The film allows us a peek into the lives of some of these workers and their struggles—not only for a living wage but also for safe working conditions. Carmen, for example, works making TV components and suffers from kidney damage because of the toxicity of her workplace.
The other incredibly compelling film in the lineup is Workingman’s Death by Michael Glawogger. Told in five parts, the Austrian director shows us some of the most dangerous, difficult and thankless work. Watching Ukrainian coal miners extract their load by hand or witnessing the slaughter yards of Nigeria, we are drawn into his visual essay by something far more visceral.
There are no stats and Glawogger offers no polemic, here. You are just given the opportunity to see that perhaps slinging that fair-trade coffee isn’t such a bad gig. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see this film, you should—it is truly unforgettable. V
Sat, May 19 (12 pm - 6 pm)
Fair Trade Fair Film Fest
Various films & directors
TransAlta Arts Barns (10330 - 84 Avenue), Suggested donation $5 - $8
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