Directors and Producers Nick Francis and Marc Francis talk about
meeting Tadesse Meskela, filming in multiple locations around the
world and strong audience reactions to BLACK GOLD.
How did you meet Tadesse Meskela? Why did you choose to feature his cooperative union in the film?
In our research we read about Tadesse and on our first trip to Addis Ababa in 2003 we interviewed him at length about the coffee industry. Towards the end of the interview he mentioned he was going to Europe, the U.S. and Japan to meet buyers to sell his farmers coffee directly. Immediately we realized we had to follow his journey, and so for the next two years we filmed with him in Seattle, London and back in Ethiopia.
By focusing on Tadesse and his co-operative union we could create the direct link between consumers and producers. The Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union is also the largest in Ethiopia—it represents over 75,000 farmers.
What did you want to achieve with BLACK GOLD?
With any film you want to achieve many things. Here are a few of them:
We wanted BLACK GOLD to motivate us, as Western consumers, to question some of our basic assumptions about our consumer lifestyle and its interaction with the rest of the world.
We wanted to urgently remind audiences that through just one cup of coffee, we are inextricably connected to the livelihoods of millions of people around the world who are struggling to survive, while corporations are earning record profits.
We also wanted the film to challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Africa, often characterized in the Western media by an overload of de-contextualized images depicting poverty and helplessness.
Crucially we wanted the audience to see that the current international trading system is enslaving millions of people and is urgently in need of radical reform.
We wanted people to wake up and smell the coffee…
What were some of the challenges you faced in making BLACK GOLD?
One of our main challenges was funding the film. Initially we had to put our own resources into starting the project, because we had to capture what was happening in the coffee areas of southern Ethiopia. Also the world trade talks were taking place in Mexico, and we couldn’t wait for funding applications or broadcasters to give us the green light.
What was it like filming in so many locations globally?
Exhausting! There were so many variables all the time and everything was very unpredictable. Having said that, it helped us feel the story we were trying to tell. One minute we were in the New York Commodity Exchange where billions of dollars are traded, and the next in Ethiopian coffee fields where farmers struggling to survive. That juxtaposition underlines the entire film.
What has the audience response been so far?
We’ve been overwhelmed by the response internationally. Audiences have reacted in so many different ways. As soon as we premiered the film at the Sundance Film Festival we could sense the film was going to cause a reaction. The first person who asked a question at our Q&A wrote a check for 10,000 dollars to complete a school featured in one of the scenes in the film. We heard that someone else divested 10,000 dollars from Starbucks in protest of the company's buying policies. People want to leave the cinema and do something, and we see that happening all the time now. For others it has changed their perception of Africa. In BLACK GOLD, you see an Ethiopia that is lush and green, not a barren desert; a country that is rich in resources, with people, striving for change. This narrative is rarely given exposure in the news media.
There are now thousands of visitors to blackgoldmovie.com each month who are discussing the issues raised by the film in the BLACK GOLD forum. We’ve also had representatives from the coffee multinationals turn up to our screenings from Stockholm to Toronto. Ethiopian ambassadors in Washington, London and Berlin came to our premieres and hundreds of people who see the film e-mail us and want to take some kind of action.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Yes, the business is difficult and at times exhausting. But the motivation to continue stems from the belief that film is uniquely powerful in speaking to a global audience, and can communicate stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
Because public television chose to show our film in its full length and it reaches a national audience.
Is there anything else you’d like to share—interesting anecdotes regarding filming, etc.?
We thought we’d finished filming BLACK GOLD—until recently. Tadesse Meskela came to London for a pre-release screening at the House of Commons. After the screening we filmed him as he took his message about unfair trade to 10 Downing Street, where he met Prime Minster Tony Blair… (and this you’ll have to see on the DVD).
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
During all stages in the filmmaking process seek feedback from others, and invite criticism.
What sparks your creativity?
The chaos that is our world.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
Coffee. It’s more inspirational than food, especially at 4 A.M. in an edit suite.
Learn about the economics of coffee >>
Read the Filmmaker Bios >>