Independent Lens (2006) - Rotten Tomatoes

Independent Lens (2006)



Critic Consensus: Black Gold is an eye-opening account of the winners and losers in the global coffee trade.

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Movie Info

Multinational coffee companies now rule our shopping malls and supermarkets and dominate the industry worth over $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil. But while we continue to pay for our lattes and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields. Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. Tadesse Meskela is one man on a mission to save his 74,000 struggling coffee farmers from bankruptcy. As his farmers strive to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans on the international market, Tadesse travels the world in an attempt to find buyers willing to pay a fair price. Against the backdrop of Tadesse's journey to London and Seattle, the enormous power of the multinational players that dominate the world's coffee trade becomes apparent. New York commodity traders, the international coffee exchanges, and the double dealings of trade ministers at the World Trade Organization reveal the many challenges Tadesse faces in his quest for a long term solution for his farmers.
Documentary , Special Interest
Directed By:
In Theaters:

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Critic Reviews for Independent Lens

All Critics (50) | Top Critics (19)

If that $2 cup of Starbucks didn't jolt you awake, this documentary by Marc and Nick Francis might do the trick.

Full Review… | January 12, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Black Gold moves at an inexorable pace, painstakingly building a case until suddenly it looms very large and casts an even longer shadow.

Full Review… | January 11, 2007
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

... a by turns poetic and hard-hitting critique of the global coffee industry ...

Full Review… | December 7, 2006
Washington Post
Top Critic

The lesson is clear: The system is broken and needs repair, and educating consumers is part of the solution.

Full Review… | November 17, 2006
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

More dynamism and knowledge in the telling and fewer cheap shots at young Starbucks workers in Seattle wouldn't have gone amiss.

Full Review… | October 28, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

This is a documentary that gets a lot across while avoiding cliches and easy exploitation, even in famine-ravaged places where more horrific images must have abounded.

Full Review… | October 27, 2006
Boston Globe
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Independent Lens


Well-produced, but all the images of poverty were not enough to make me forget basic macroeconomics.

Jason Graff
Jason Graff

"Black Gold" is an earnest documentary about an attempt to raise the prices paid to coffee farmers in Ethopia who are paid cents on the dollars. What the documentary does especially well is demolish the notion that paying farmers more will result in higher prices here in the West. Tadesse Meskela who manages a cooperative union has a simple idea to just eliminate the middleman and bring the product directly to markets in the West. Of course, that's not as easy as it sounds since the coffee market is controlled mostly by four multinationals, Kraft, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee, with prices being set in New York and London while the World Trade Organization works behind closed doors to the benefit of western countries. Tadesse Meskela's hard work is absolutely necessary to make the coffee farmers self-sufficient due to the dangerously low standard of living in rural Ethiopia, as there is not enough money currently for even basic services including education. But in trying to educate the viewer about its cause, the documentary dumps all of the relevant information early on, instead of forming a narrative following the coffee from harvest to brewing to drinking. Information could have been better provided throughout with a judicious use of talking heads. In fact, the approach "Black Gold" takes is haphazard at times with some strange tangents like the World Barista Championships as the documentary misses a valuable opportunity to educate when it talks to the baristas in Seattle. And sometimes a little confrontation is good for the soul

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer


This was an interesting documentary on a subject I know nothing about. I am not a coffee drinker and have only had 3 or 4 cups in my life, and once was because I was choking. I just don?t like the flavor. And I think the whole coffee culture in the US is a farce. However, that doesn?t mean I am not interested in what is happening behind the scenes. I do think it is interesting that the idea of Chat keeping people going in Ethiopia, where this doc takes place, and how coffee keeps so many people going in the US is funny. However, I think this doc might have gotten stuck on what wasn?t the bigger issue here, or maybe should have just picked a more refined narrative. The fact that Africa is being screwed over by Europe and the US is a huge topic. To point it out through coffee is good. But this wanders too many other places. If it was more about how the farmer?s are desperate and how it is decimating communities and families, that would have been good. Just following the rep around the world would have been interesting. Jumbling it all together quickly didn?t amount to as much as it could have. Still, stop buying and drinking coffee unless it is from a reputable source, which isn?t Starbucks or many other big brands.

Lee B
Lee B

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