Dear Friends and Family,
Many of you may already know about the new documentary project that Chelsea and I are producing, called Connected By Coffee. I’m so excited about the story that we have to tell. It’s both sad and hopeful, simple and complex. And it’s a BIG story. Many have asked us questions about the film. It’s a complicated subject, and it takes time to explain, so if your’e short on time, I encourage you to simply watch the short video we created for our Kickstarter campaign here.
Most of us drink coffee, A LOT of coffee. I’m sipping my second cup of the day as I type this. But how many people truly think about where their coffee comes from? Did you know that the coffee bean is actually the pit of fruit called a coffee cherry? (Or that you can eat the fruit!??). The world consumes 1.4 billion cups of coffee each day. Think about that for a second – 1.4 billion! And the crazy thing to me is that each one of the coffee beans is takes to make those cups is hand-picked. Hand-picked by farmers who work incredibly hard, yet usually live in desperate poverty. Farmers who typically make less per day than we spend on one cappuccino….
Our story goes much deeper than this sad fact. We are seeking to show the roots of a system that allows so much suffering to exist at one end of a supply chain. As a start, we have to back up at least 500 years.
The first Europeans that came to the Americas saw the land as a vast source of wealth and resources – from Gold to Silver to Sugar to Bananas to Coffee. The problem for the Europeans was that the land was already inhabited. But instead of working and trading with the native people, they fought and killed, enslaved and exploited. The story of coffee production is a mircocosm of this resource grab. Some of the first land owners used slaves to plant and harvest their coffee. Later, indentured servants were used (who’s plight was little better than slaves), and even today many coffee farmers are stuck in a cycle of debt and poverty that makes them essentially economic slaves.
Did you think about any of that last time you drank a cup? Me neither – not until I started to dig into this history, and journeyed to meet many, many coffee farmers.
Now, if I ended things right there this would be a rather depressing tale, wouldn’t it? Another story about greed and corruption that leaves you questioning the future of mankind. But that’s not where it ends. It get better. But first it gets worse.
The burgeoning world-wide popularity of coffee created huge fortunes for some. A very small population who controlled coffee and other commodities became massively rich while the majority of the people lived in poverty and misery. The wealth and power of the ruling classes and the disparity between them and the peasant class continued to grow. People began to stand up to demand change. The revolutions that resulted, and often-times counter-revolutions, civil wars, and horrible atrocities are another sad, but inescapable chapter in this story.
These struggles that the people of Latin America faced are beyond the reality of most of us. And yet they didn’t lose their hope or humanity. And here’s where it gets inspiring. In many places, the farmers realized that in order to pull themselves up, they needed to work together. They formed cooperatives to join small farms together in order to share resources and profits and to build their communities. Worldwide people started to understand the injustices of the past, and visionaries among them realized that they could help these people, not by giving them aid, but by helping them have a market to sell their products in an equitable way.
These are the conditions that created the movement we now call Fair Trade. I find it to be very uplifting how many people are committed to helping right historical wrongs and work to support rather than exploit these farmers. Fair Trade connects us with those who grow the coffee we drink (and the handicrafts we buy, and chocolate and sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fruit, flowers andmore) and gives a simple tool to take action. Is Fair Trade perfect? No – it’s not and most everyone involved will admit that. It’s no magic bullet. And there is large divide at the moment in philosphy over the future of the movement. This film will touch on that, for sure. But one thing is often lost in this debate – the voices of the farmers.
And that’s where our film will center itself – around the stories of these farmers. Our journey through Central America will serve as the narrative train to tell this complex history and to show the truly inspiring work that is being done across the world to use coffee as a tool for change. We’ll focus on four coffee cooperatives that we visited and where we made friends. Each has a unique struggle and inspiring story that could easily be the focus of an entire film. And these are only four examples of a world-wide movement of farmers connecting themselves with the global community.
So, there you have it. It’s a storyabout the past and the future, greed and altruism, suffering and joy, hopelessness and hope. It’s not easy to sum up succinctly, but our challenge will be to tell the story simply and in a way that resonates with our audience. We want people to know what goes into creating their cup of coffee, and to be inspired about how by using their buying power responsibly they can make a difference for the farmers.
In order to support our small film team and make sure we can tell this story properly, we’ve set our fundraising sights on an ambitious goal – to raise $30,000 in 30 days. That’s a mountain to climb, but I’m optimistic that we can do it. If you feel inclined to help us, it’s easy to contribute at our Kickstarter page here: http://kck.st/16NFsx4 We’re so appreciative of any contribution, and sharing that simple link with your friends will go a long ways towards helping us!
We’re so grateful for the support of our community that allows us to create independent documentaries. Last year’s, The People and The Olive would not have been possible without over 100 people who believed in the power of ‘Films for a better world’. Now, I just can’t wait to finish this next film.
Thanks for all the support!
Tweetable blurb: A new film needs your support to show the stories of the world’s coffee farmers and how fair trade can help them! kck.st/16NFsx4
We have a long term relationship with Scholastic and have been honored to work on several series’ of videos for several projects including Expert Space, Trueflix, Freedomflix and more. These video series are part of interactive websites that schools and libraries can subscribe to. The videos are just a part of the overall learning experience and they work to get students interested in a subject and hopefully wanting to learn more by reading. This fits with Scholastic corporate missions ‘to encourage the intellectual and personal growth of all children, beginning with literacy, the cornerstone of all learning. ‘
School Library Journal recently reviewed the Freedomflix series, and had this to say:
Each whiteboard compatible “Watch It” section consists of a one- to two-minute video that begins with a Google-maps-based TruEarth image. Once the camera zooms in on the relevant locale, a montage of period paintings, drawings,
photographs, and modern-day reenactment footage transitions smoothly as an easy-to understand, natural-voiced reader narrates…
A streamlined, intuitive design and smart, interactive features make Freedomflix
ideal for enhancing 21st century-literacy and technology skills…
Freedomflix is a gold medal winner.
Not bad! We’re currently working a new batch of Trueflix and Freedomflix videos. You can find out more at www.Scholastic.com
We’re an independent film company creating ‘films for a better world’. We’re seeking an intelligent, positive, self-motivated intern to help us communicate with the world. This is a work-from-anywhere position, so there are no geographical limitations. Currently, this is an unpaid internship, but we want it be good stepping stone for launching a career and there is the potential for pay in the future. This would be perfect for a college student or recent grad.
The ideal candidate:
-Great communication skills!
-Very proficient with Facebook and Twitter
-A passion for making the world a better place, and an interest in Social Justice, Environmental Issues, Documentary Films and/or the Fair Trade Movement.
-Self-motivated, committed and interested in learning about a variety of subjects.
The primary role for this intern will be to communicate through social media outlets, especially Facebook and Twitter. This communication will cover Stone Hut Studios news and info about our various projects including, The People and The Olive, and the upcoming Connected By Coffee.
We want to keep up regular communication, with our audience so the Intern’s duties would be to make facebook posts and tweets with news about these projects, the issues behind them, and general engaging items. Additional duties would include researching film screening opportunities, funding sources, and promoting our films and our upcoming Kickstarter campaign.
We’re seeking someone who can commit 10 hours per week for at least 3 months.
Please send us a resume, a snappy letter, or anything that proves you’re right for this position to StoneHutStudios@gmail.com
Dear People and The Olive Supporters,
As many of you know, The People And The Olive documentary had it’s world premiere on September 10th, to a sold-out State Theatre in Traverse City, Michigan. It was an amazing evening, and a dream come true to be able to share the film’s message with so many in the hometown of many of the Run Across Palestine team. This article by journalist Keith Schneider, sums up the evening beautifully.
Now for this coming weekend, the film will be making it’s national debut, as a part of two major festivals - The Chicago International Social Change Film Festival, and the Boston Palestine Film Festival. It’s going to be a very exciting weekend as the film’s producers Aaron Dennis and Jacob Wheeler head to Boston and co-producers Timothy Young and Chelsea Dennis travel to Chicago to take part in the screenings and Q&A sessions afterward! Invite your friends who live in these areas to attend and spread the word. More details about the screening times can be found at: http://thepeopleandtheolive.com/?page_id=29
It’s also going to be a race to the finish line for our Kickstarter campaign! The original campaign launched the web series and helped pay for travel expenses. Then followed hundreds and hundreds of donated hours (it’s a true labor of love) to turn the web-series into a feature documentary. Now we are raising $6000 to cover the expenses of promotion and spreading the film to theatres and film festivals across the globe. As of today, we are at 73% of our goal – which means we have to raise $1620 in the next 6 days – or none of those donations will be processed! Any donation amount will help, and $25+ donors receive a limited edition copy of the DVD. Also, between now and the end of the campaign, the top donor receives a special gift of an extra bottle of Canaan Fair Trade Olive Oil and a bottle of Palestinian olives! Please help share the word with friends, and spread this simple link to our Kickstarter campaign: http://kck.st/MULfa1
We are so grateful for support that made this film possible. By helping the project, you are not only supporting independent filmmaking, but you are also helping to spread a message of hope, peace and shared humanity! There are many other screenings in the works, including two in the biggest theaters in Palestine. Check our facebook page or www.thepeopleandtheolive.com soon for updates!
P.S. If you are a supporter of the original web-series, please be sure to send us your address so that we can send you your reward. Many are still left unclaimed!
Stone Hut Studios has been around for just over a year now – and what a year it has been!
Since last July we’ve produced 21 videos promoting the work of great causes, organizations and companies. And in this time we also created 47 short educational videos. And last but not least, we’ve also completed our first feature film, “The People and The Olive” which premieres on September 10th in Traverse City, MI and will soon be showing in several international film festivals.
In one year our scope of work has evolved from exclusively short videos to encompass any size project, but our mission remains the same – to use filmmaking as a tool for good. From supporting socially and environmentally responsible organizations to telling inspiring stories to motivate social change, we aim our efforts at making a positive impact.
It’s been a great year of collaboration, and it wouldn’t have been possibly without the help of a bunch of talented folks, including Andy Case, Jacob Wheeler, Vivien Sansour, Gary Howe, Chelsea Dennis, Bill Latka, DC Hayden, Jay Burlage, Ken Scott, the whole On The Ground crew, our PATO Kickstarter supporters, the PATO volunteer transcribers and many others. We’re honored to be a part of the wonderful Traverse City, Michigan community and we love that we can work towards our mission locally and globally.
Thanks for joining us on this journey! And watch for some exciting new projects coming soon, including videos for the SAIL Champion Program, TART Trails and Wheels of Hope.
All the best,
Stone Hut Studios – “Films for a Better World”
Over the next several weeks Aaron Dennis and Jacob Wheeler will be expanding their seven-part web-series, “The People and The Olive” into a feature length documentary. The series followed the Run Across Palestine, a 100+ mile, 5 day ultra-marathon to support olive farmers in the the West Bank.
The series can be seen as it first appeared here: http://onthegroundglobal.org/the-people-and-the-olive-video-series/
and in a higher quality here: https://vimeo.com/channels/292633
Now they hope to build the series into a film that will give a broader view of the subject, teaching viewers more about Palestinian olive farmers, and the role the tree plays in their larger struggle for international respect and independence, while offering signs of hope and cross-cultural understanding between Americans, Palestinians and Israelis. This exploration will take place through the eyes and words of the U.S. runners, Palestinian farmers, and academics, a Jewish-American musician and Israeli peace activists.
The web-series and preliminary production of the documentary was funded by a $5000 Kickstarter campaign and the generous support of over 80 backers. This money covered the travel and logistical expenses of Dennis and Wheeler. A new Kickstarter campaign will soon we be launched to help cover the basic costs involved in the post-production process for the documentary. But the majority of time and effort being put into this documentary is all donated.
To keep the costs low, so that more donations can ultimately go towards the fundraising goals of The Run Across Palestine, the filmmakers are seeking volunteers to help in the post-production process.
One of the first steps involved is to transcribe the multitude of interviews that were filmed. Having these transcripts makes the editing process much more efficient. This is usually a fairly expensive step, but it’s also a simple one. Anyone who can type can help! Many of the interviews can be transcribed by an average speed typist in an hour or less.
Those who are interested will be given access to private online videos of the interviews that can be viewed online or downloaded. Then with a simple process, the interviews can be viewed and the words typed out. This can be done in any word-processing program (Microsoft word, Google Docs, etc). Then the text can be emailed or pasted into a private Google doc that contains all the transcripts.
Anyone who helps will receive:
-Credits in the finished film
-Free tickets for themselves and a guest to the premier showing in Traverse City
-The satisfaction of having helped a good cause!
Also, internship possibilities exists for students who want to be involved.
If you are interested in helping, please send an email to Aaron Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will send instructions on how to get started!
The third day of the Run Across Palestine started in Jerusalem and ended over twenty five miles away in Arura. It was another incredibly exciting, gruelling and inspiring day. Like most of the days of the run, the work was far from over at the destination. We were welcomed in Arura by a large crowd of cheering people including the female governor a wide region. We were fed a tasty meal, welcomed in speeches and greeted by local dignitaries. By the end of most of these days, our team (6 runners, 3 media people and Joshua Davis the musical ambassador) were exhausted and ready to rest. At Arura, the runners did their best to be sociable, but after their second straight day of marathoning (plus a truncated marathon the day before that), beds and (most likely unobtainable showers) beckoned.
Read the rest at On The Ground’s website here: http://onthegroundglobal.org/the-making-of-the-people-and-the-olive-thoughts-from-filmmaker-aaron-dennis/
A Farmer’s Patience
By Jacob Wheeler
To read the rest of this post, click here.
In February of 2012, journalist Jacob Wheeler and filmmaker Aaron Dennis will follow a team of American and Palestinian athletes as they run the West Bank, from Hebron to Jenin (129 miles over five days) to raise awareness about the struggles facing olive farmers in Palestine. The “Run Across Palestine”, a project of On The Ground aims to reestablish sustainable olive growing practices in a place where the economy, culture and identity are rooted in the ancient tree. 45 percent of the agricultural land in the West Bank is used for growing olives, employing 100,000 Palestinians. The money raised by the run will go to fund the replanting of olive trees uprooted in recent years, and to fund scholarships for the children of the farmers.
Dennis and Wheeler will produce a 7-part documentary web series entitled “The People and the Olive”, telling stories of hope and perseverance in the West Bank. These videos will be posted with accompanying blog reports and will appear on On the Ground’s website. Their work will also appear in Tikkun Magazine, TheUpTake.org,and other outlets. After the completion of the run, these videos will be compiled and expanded into a short documentary. This film will be available on DVD and will premier in Traverse City, Michigan.
Watch a video and view our Kickstarter campaign here!
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Check back soon!