Tag Archives: Film Review

Strong Coffee: Fair Trade and Feminism in the World of Coffee

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Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009
7:00pm – 8:30pm
Studio 35 Cinema & Draft House (here)
3055 Indianola Ave, Columbus, OH

Film Review By Roger Landes

As with millions of Americans, my day begins with a large, piping hot cup of coffee. No cream, no sugar. Or, on days when I wake up late, I’ll throw in a couple of ice cubes so that I might slide it down my gullet while running out the door. I tend to buy the second-least-expensive bulk coffee I can find at the grocery store and only in the most basic flavor available. Even in coffee shops I usually just go with the most basic flavor, mainly for fear of lacking some sort of lingo necessary to order without the baristas rolling their eyes at me. In short, my coffee purchases have been based upon the ease of the transaction and not having to think about my choice whatsoever.

And that, I have learned, has been a mistake.

It’s not that I didn’t understand what organic food was. It implies that the food was held to a higher standard of production and quality. It also means it is more expensive. So my confusion was not in what was organic, but why choose organic.

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And here we find the most important message of Strong Coffee. Coffee is second only to oil as a traded commodity, and is primarily produced in Africa and South and Central America. The average coffee farmer makes about $2 a day, while big business brings in billions of dollars through imports and exports. The documentary chronicles the creation and management of Café Femenino, a coffee co-op that aims to redirect the balance of money towards the farmers of the actual coffee.

For over 40 years, Isabel Latorre and her husband Victor Rojas have been working to aid female coffee farmers in Peru who were being abused by a chauvinistic society and economy. Abuse of women was climbing to the rate of 70%, and a machismo attitude kept women from having an education or being able to make any real money. Latorre began educating the female farmers to improve their production to organic standards. She got into contact with Garth Smith, an organic coffee importer from Washington. With the help of his wife Gaylene, they started Café Femenino, made up of exclusively female farmers and administrators. At the heart of the group were two ideals: fair trade and feminism.

Café Femenino demonstrates all of the best aspects of both of these concepts. The farmers must meet strict criteria to be classified as organic, which sells at a much higher price on the international market. In order to make sure that these proceeds are indeed coming from the women farmers, the farm land that the farming is occurring must be owned by a woman. This helps restructure the family economic model; by bringing in more capital, the women have more pull within the family structure. Also, the roasters must to sell the beans with 2% of profits must be donated to women’s crisis centers. The film shows several different locations in Washington where women’s shelters have been sustained solely because of the sale of Café Femenino coffee in their area.
The film displays the painstaking process that these women go through in order to provide for their families, as well as showing the incredible benefits of their hard work. The film also shows the dedication of the administrators and the roasters have for supplying great coffee to the public, while still holding the integrity of the company. And this is where the message truly resonated for me. I find the commitment to making a better life for people, and the sacrifices made to be very moving.

Why organic? I don’t know. Maybe because going to Stauf’s and buying Café Femenino instead of Folgers isn’t really that much of a sacrifice for me to make. And neither is paying the extra coin. But the result can be tremendous.

Review: A Powerful Noise

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Putting the Power in A Powerful Noise

By Roger Landes 

A Powerful Noise asks nothing from its viewers.  At least, not directly.  It’s not that kind of documentary.  To put it quite simply, it doesn’t need to be. 

Sure, it’s an activist film with a strong feminist message, but not once will it demand anything from you.  But that is not to say it isn’t affecting.  Hell it’s inspiring.  The inspiration of the film comes not from a manipulative director, but from the characters presented.  This is where the brilliance of the film is found.

The film follows three women with backgrounds as different as their locations.  Hanh is a HIV-positive widow from Vietnam.  Nada is survivor of the Bosnian war.  Lastly, the wonderful Madame Urbain is a social activist in Bamako, the largest city in one of the poorest countries, Mali. 

Although these women at first glance have little in common, their struggle is the same: they must reform the societies that seem to have no interest in changing.  The film chronicles their hardships, and successes.

Hanh works in Vietnam to combat the growing number of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam.  The disease is spreading at the same rate as the amount of heroin use in the country.  Hanh’s husband transferred to her the disease which was spread to her young daughter, who died not a year after contracting the disease. 

Hanh now tackles the difficult task of educating the public on safe sex and not sharing needles.  Hanh passes out condoms and literature to locals and gives speeches to the masses.  This is particularly difficult in her home country, as its society has intense social stigmas on the disease.  As much as she tries, she is met with great difficulty from factory owners who refuse to let her speak to the workers. 

Hanh also sets up support groups for those affected by the disease.  The film does a remarkable job at showing the shame, fear, and hope found in the people of Vietnam.

The Bosnian War is arguably the most misunderstood travesty of the past 30 years.  The war occurred due to the clashing cultures of the Bosniaks and the Serbians.  In the aftermath of the war, the people found their economy completely destroyed, over a million people displaced, and over 50% unemployed. 

Nada is a survivor of the war who works to help local farmers to find a place to sell their crops.  Without an economy of imports and exports, farmers have no place to sell their goods.  Nada helps to create co-ops and connect families in order to collect their stocks and sell them.  She struggles with the still fallen economy, and remaining clashes between the two cultures.  She flows freely around both the Bosniak people and the Serbs.

Of the three women, Madame Urbain shines as not only the most moving, but entertaining as well.  Mme. Urbain is a social worker in the West African country of Mali.  The countries immense poverty reaches out to the villages, where men and woman have no ability to get any form of education. 

The only option for many girls is to move to the countries biggest city, Bamako, in order to find work.  But, without any education or skills the only option for them is to become domestic servants.  Mme. Urbain works to end this practice.  She has offices that work to take protect these domestic servants, making sure that their employees don’t take advantage of them and pay them properly. 

Mme. Urbain works foremost to set up schools and encourage the education of young women. “To educate a woman is to educate a village is to educate a nation.” 

But she is met with resistance, especially from the male villagers, as the society maintains its emrace on women’s past subserviant role.  Mme. Urbain knows the great weight on her shoulders, but she accepts it with grace and humility, even when confronted with difficulties.

The truly inspirational part of the film: with so much resistance and so many hardships, where can these women find hope?  The film shows us, three women with no place in society, yet they reached out and claimed a place for their own.

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(Trailer)

SCREENING:

A Powerful Noise screens on Tuesday August 25, at The Drexel Theater, 7:30 – 9:00pm.

This screening is co-sponsored by the Free Press. Admission is free. Donations accepted.

This is the first contribution to OH! Film by guest blogger and CIF+VF volunteer Roger Landes. Without the generous support of people like Roger, the reach of the CIF+VF and OH! Film would be severly stunted.