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A 1000-mile journey across Central America to show how coffee farmers and consumers can work together to create a more just world

HALFWAY POINT UPDATE - April 25th, 2013

Connected By Coffee is a really big story about the past and the future, greed and altruism, suffering and joy, hopelessness and hope. At its heart are the voices of the farmers who grow and pick the worlds coffee.

Over a billion cups of coffee are consumed each day, yet the farmers live in poverty. How can that be? To get to the root of this issue, our film will take two journeys. One is the 1000 mile trip we took from Mexico to Nicaragua to speak with coffee farmers. The other takes us through the last 500 years of the intertwined histories of Latin America, of coffee and of trade itself - both unfair and fair.

The first Europeans that came to the Americas saw the land as a vast source of wealth and resources. But instead of working and trading with the native people, they fought, killed, enslaved and exploited. The story of coffee production is a microcosm of this resource grab. Some of the first coffee barons used slaves to plant and harvest their coffee, and even today many coffee farmers are stuck in a cycle of debt and poverty that makes them essentially economic slaves.

Coffee and other commodities created huge fortunes for some, while the majority lived in poverty and misery. People began to stand up to demand change. The resulting revolutions, civil wars, and horrible atrocities are a sad chapter in this fight for social justice and peace.

Social movements sprang up to right historical injustices. Small-scale farmers began to empower themselves and work together by forming cooperatives to share resources and support their communities. Instead of exploiting the farmers as those in the past did, visionaries across the world worked to find ways to help them. And this wasn't through aid, but by finding a worldwide market to trade their coffee. That movement is what we call fair trade today.

This will be the historical backdrop to the journey we took from one coffee cooperative to another. Two of our main characters are Matt Earley of Just Coffee Cooperative and Chris Treter of Higher Grounds Trading Company. Both men have dedicated their lives to trading coffee equitably with a commitment to their relationships with coffee farmers. We’ll combine their voices with those of many other fair-traders to dig into today’s issues. We’ve interviewed many leaders from forward thinking organizations such Fair Trade Federation, Equal Exchange, Fair Trade International, Fair Trade USA, Small Producer’s Symbol, Fair World Project, and more. One of the people that inspired us the most is Jonathan Rosenthal, co-founder of Equal Exchange and executive director of Cooperative Coffees, who told us, “To me fair trade as a term is fairly new but the values and the struggles of fair trade are thousands of years old. My goal is that someday people will look back and say can you believe that people allowed others all over the planet to live in total misery or poverty?”

We’ve reached the halfway point of our Kickstarter campaign and we have a long ways to go. But we’re really grateful and inspired by the support we’ve received. Your donations will help our small team tell this big story and help cover the expenses of making the film. It’s a huge task, but we’re thrilled to be a able create a tool to educate and inspire. From myself and rest of the Stone Hut Studios team, thank you!

-Aaron Dennis

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Without farmers, there is no coffee. Yet most coffee growers live in dire poverty.

In January of 2013, two North American coffee roasters set out with a small film crew on a 1000 mile journey across Central America. On the way they met with soldiers who had become growers, women who now own their own farms, and countless communities using coffee as a tool to create social change.

These growers are forging new ways of working together - cooperatively farming their land and managing their businesses. And these co-ops are partnering with visionary coffee roasters and consumers in the North who believe in a fairer way of doing business.

Yet while Fair Trade and ethical consumerism continue to grow, this growth raises as many questions as it does answers. To truly understand the subject, we must look at the historical injustices of global politics and international trade.

Our journey will serve as the launching point for a wide-ranging discussion, including:

An Examination of our Coffee Culture
The Lives of Coffee Farmers
The Extraordinary Process of Making Coffee
The Troubled History of Latin America
The Future of Fair Trade

And we’ll explore all this in the context of the broader movement for social justice that includes the struggles for Indigenous Rights, Campesino Rights, Agrarian Reform, Women’s Empowerment, Food Sovereignty and Community Resilience.

We’ll also hear the voices of Fair Trade’s pioneers and experts who will discuss the ideals of the movement, the serious challenges it faces and their dreams for the future.

Along the way, we’ll ask some of the toughest questions that the movement faces:

Can a label on a product ensure justice?
Is Fair Trade compatible with big business?
Are cooperatives the only just way to protect farmers’ rights?
Is Fair Trade even fair?

We don’t have all the answers. But we do have something important to contribute - something that is all too often forgotten - and that’s the voices of the coffee farmers themselves. This film will give a voice to the farmers and show the world that everyone who drinks coffee is connected in a very real way to those who grow it.  

We aim to create an important film with a wide reach that will help shape not just how we think about coffee - but also how we reconcile the concept of economic trade with universal values of compassion, decency, fairness and justice.

Our distribution goal is to begin with film festivals, and then work to spread the film as far and wide as possible through screenings by theaters, universities, libraries, coffee shops, religious institutions, fair trade organizations and others. The film will also be available to watch online, through iTunes, Netflix, and other outlets. 

We aim to raise $30,000 to complete this film. That money will go towards the costs involved with the remaining steps of the production and post-production process. It will support our small team as we work to complete the film, and help cover the additional costs involved with translations, transcriptions, music, archival media, website, promotion and distribution.

The first half of the shooting is complete. In January we travelled over 1000 miles in Central America to record the stories of these farmers in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. We recorded over 50 hours of footage, and filmed interviews with dozens of farmers. This footage has been translated and transcribed and is in the process of being crafted into a script.

For us to tell the whole story, the next step is to film the voices of Fair Trade leaders, and experts in the field of coffee, social justice and Central American history.

In April we’ll be travelling to Boston to attend the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) annual exposition where we have many interviews lined up. In May we’ll be doing the same in North Carolina for the Fair Trade Federation annual meeting (where we’ll also be showing our film, ‘The People and The Olive’). After that, post-production will accelerate, with a targeted premiere of Fall 2013.

Stone Hut Studios is an independent film company dedicated to creating “Films For A Better World".  We have worked around the globe using film and video to tell inspiring stories of people working towards hopeful and positive change. In 2012, Stone Hut Studios released The People and The Olive: The Story of the Run Across Palestine. The film's message of hope and peace has been spread through film festivals and screenings across the world.  

 This project is being spear-headed by the husband and wife team or Aaron and Chelsea Dennis. You can read more about our team here. 

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

As with all Kickstarter projects, this campaign is all-or-nothing. If we don't reach our goal we will receive none of the funding and our donors will not be charged. Please help spread the word wide and far!

Thank you for your support!

FAQ

  • We follow two long-time fair traders, Matt Earley and Chris Treter, as they journey 1000 miles from Mexico to Nicaragua. Their story and insights will be the entry to the story and the introduction to the multitude of coffee farmers we meet. The stories of this coffee farmers will lead to the broader historical and political point.s Also, experts in coffee, equitable trade and Latin American history will play an integral role in the film.

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  • There is growing divide amongst fair trade leaders regarding the future of the movement. Our goal as filmmakers is not to take sides, but to show to the opinions of the different sides. To us, it's important to take a step back and look at the shared goals of those working towards 'equitable trade'. We've interviewed a great number of people with diverging opinions. We're approaching this as responsible journalists - we aim to show the multitude of voices and let the viewer make their own decisions. However, it should be noted that this film is the story of the coffee farmers - and it is their voice and history that make up the majority of the screen time.

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  • We're very grateful for the individuals and businesses that are helping us making this film. But we have strict policy that no donors, sponsors or people appearing in the film have any editorial, artistic, or technical control over the film. We want this film to be a broad tool that can be used by any organization involved in equitable trade as well as coffee shops, class rooms, religious institutions, etc. This film is in no way a promotional piece for any of the business, organizations or people appearing in the film.

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  • Thanks for asking! This project has such big goals, and a wide subject that it can be difficult to explain succinctly. First off, sharing this short link is the best way to get the word out: http://kck.st/16NFsx4

    And here's a brief facebook post template:

    Connected By Coffee is the story of Latin American coffee farmers and how our daily brew is deeply connected to the region's troubled past and hopeful future. Following a 1000-mile journey across coffee-land, the film will give a voice to the farmers, and show how they are working together with equitable traders around the world to empower their communities and build a more just future. Help this inspiring project reach their funding goal!

    And a here are some tweetable options as well:

    A new film needs your support to show the stories of the world's coffee farmers and how fair trade can help them! http://kck.st/16NFsx4

    A new film about coffee farmers & the connection between coffee and Latin America's troubled past and hopeful future. http://kck.st/16NFsx4

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