Hot Docs 2011: ‘The Chocolate Farmer’

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The Chocalate Farmer

Directed by Rohan Fernando

2011, Canada, 70 mins.

The appeal of The Chocolate Farmer isn’t broad, but it certainly straddles a few niches. The eponymous farmer, Eladio Pop, is a Mayan in southern Belize who farms cacao in a plot of jungle land. One part lament for the past, one part struggle to preserve cultural values in a changing world, and one part ode to nature, The Chocolate Farmer is a film specifically for the activist crowd.

The Mayan side of this film is something like an indigenous rights manifesto. It covers the Mayan’s relation with their ancestors, their current economic and legal status, and their struggles with the state to simultaneously provide better economic assistance and protect their way of life. This is depressingly familiar territory in most indigenous people’s documentaries – quietly observed injustice.

The ecological side of this film is a bit more surprising. Pop’s farm is hardly recognizable as a farm to a Western audience – it is literally a plot of jungle with the small spaces periodically cleared for cacao trees, as though the farm and forest blend together. Business is handled by a co-op, and the land leased (and eventually bought) from the government. However, Pop doesn’t want to own land – he prefers to see himself as merely a traveler. The greater part of this documentary explores this ethos – can a person truly live differently if he changes his expectations of the world?

As I’ve suggested, this is not a documentary for everyone. Its ponderous pace and philosophical concerns lend it to a particular audience. If those descriptors make it sound appealing, then by all means make an effort to see it.

Dave Robson

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8th. Visit the official website for the festival.

1 Comment
  1. Holly Crooks says

    Interesting point you make “that this man’s farm would hardly be recognized as a farm to a Western audience”. How refreshing that a critical Western eye is not the dominant perspective of this elegant film. This is not, as you suggest, simply a film for “the activist crowd” and the issues it explores have relevance beyond “quietly observed injustice” of indigenous communities (both globally and here in Canada). The larger question of how what we value may affect our very survival is beautifully presented. I appreciate Fernando’s directorial approach – one that provides room for a thoughtful viewer to make their own discoveries. As you said, “by all means, make an effort to see it”.

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