Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 17, 2013

Couple's film focuses on Latin American coffee farmers

BY CYMBRE FOSTER Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Have you ever taken a moment to consider where your morning cup of java comes from?

Filmmakers Aaron and Chelsea Dennis hope to raise your awareness of that with their upcoming feature-length documentary, "Connected by Coffee."

The film will tell the story of Latin American coffee farmers and how our daily brew is deeply connected to that region’s troubled past and hopeful future, said Chelsea Dennis.

They have localized the story by tying the coffee farmers to two local organizations hoping that residents will see how they are more closely connected to the world’s coffee farmers than they realize.

“Coffee is a hugely popular beverage,” said Aaron Dennis, the film’s director and owner of Stone Hut Studios Film Company. “Worldwide, over a billion cups of coffee are consumed daily, but many times people don’t think about everything that goes into making a cup of coffee.”

The farmers often live in poverty and typically make less in one day than Americans spend on a cappuccino, he added.

“The stories of where that poverty comes from, and solutions for fixing it, are a big part of our film,” he said.

The couple began their project in January after Chelsea, who owns a graphic design company that focuses on fair trade companies, realized that there was only one full-length fair trade coffee movie — and that one was released a decade ago.

Their film has taken the couple across the U.S. and to growing regions around the world, where they have interviewed those involved in all aspects of the coffee trade.

Some of the farmers featured in the film are those who work with Chris Treter, owner of Higher Grounds Trading Company, a Traverse City-based coffee roaster and supplier. Stone Hut Studios teamed up with Treter in January for the primary filming, which encompassed a 1,000-mile journey across coffee-growing regions from Mexico to Nicaragua. Along the way, they met farmers and heard their stories, said Chelsea Dennis.

“These farmers are just like the farmers you meet at our local farm markets,” Chelsea said. “It will be clear how connected we all really are.”

Treter has been working directly with small-scale growing cooperatives around the world for years.

“This story will show area consumers the men and women who we are working with to bring a cup of coffee to their table and who are our partners in creating a more just economy,” said Treter.

The couple hopes that their film, scheduled for release in January 2014, will reach audiences around the world.

“I’m so excited about this film because it shows a situation where historically there has been a great deal of injustice but now there is a model for hope," Aaron Dennis said.

Last year, Stone Hut Studios released the documentary, "The People and the Olive," about the 127-mile run across Palestine to support fair trade olive farmers. Since its premiere at the State Theatre in Traverse City, it has appeared at dozens of film festivals and screenings across the world.

The couple’s recent Kickstarter campaign to raise money for their latest endeavor fell short of the $30,000 they need to complete "Connected by Coffee," so they are still looking for funding.

“That amount will cover everything — from translations and transcription to travel and editing,” she said.

To make a donation or learn more about the film, visit www.ConnectedByCoffee.com or call 342-1645.