The film "Black Gold" focuses on an Ethiopian farmer's cooperative seeking to increase the price received by its farmers for coffee production. In the course of things, it touches on the role of the middlemen, the WTO, food aid, aid versus trade, U.S. and European agricultural subsidies and the extreme poverty of Ethiopian coffee farmers. It is beautifully done; sometimes visually stunning.
My frustration with it was the limited informational content. Much -- perhaps half -- of the film is focused on illustrating the extreme poverty of Ethiopian farmers, interspersed with long shots of Western coffee drinkers and barista contests. This is an important point, but it really doesn't take that much footage of watching Westerners enjoy their coffee to get it across, and it comes at the expense of other substantive points. Like, what does the WTO have to do with coffee production? The film hints that by protecting Western subsidies the WTO depresses agricultural prices and makes it unprofitable for Africans to produce other export crops, but that point goes by so quickly that you have to be sure not to blink. Instead, we have people complaining about how the WTO works, without any explicit tie in to the our coffee story.
At one point the film seems to be espousing the labor theory of value, implying that farmers should make decent incomes because they work hard, even if they are producing something that no one wants to pay them for. The real story -- and again, this is hinted at but never explicitly set out or explored -- is that we are not dealing with a competitive market here, which is why the farmers are not getting the full value of their production.
Another implicit story is how vulnerable farmers are to swings in world prices. But of course, that's why the Europeans and the U.S. introduced farm subsidies in the first place.
This film is frustrating because it could have been so much more, although I'm sure it will be an eye opener for people who don't know low-income country poverty.