Archive for the ‘Enjoy Your Coffee’ Category

NY Times Highlights Subject of Film Produced by V&V’s Principals

June 5, 2013

Having started filming the documentary Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean back in 2006, the JEMGLO production team was excited to see The New York Times today refer to the cooperative of Christian, Jewish and Muslim coffee farmers who comprise the documentary subject. The principals of JEMGLO, producer/writer Ellen Friedland director/DP/cinematographer Curt Fissel, are also the principals of Voices and Visions.

Highlighted in the Food section, the Times noted that “J.J. Keki, a Jewish Ugandan coffee farmer…enlisted Christian, Jewish and Muslim farmers to form a coffee cooperative. The result: Delicious Peace Coffee (Mirembe Kawomera), which comes in a nutty-tasting light roast, a rich dark roast and decaffeinated.” The Times’ mention coincided with the launch of a Smithsonian Folkways recording on CD produced by Rabbi Jeffrey Summit of 16 songs by the farmers titled Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music and Interfaith Harmony in Uganda. 

The first version of the documentary, narrated by actor Ed O’Neill, was released in 2010 and screened at over 35 film festivals internationally, including many prestigious festivals, and won a number of meaningful awards. This past March Ellen, Curt and several additional members of a production team, returned for a fifth trip to the cooperative to videotape updates (link to the blog), including a qualitatively improved standard of living thanks in large measure to Fair Trade wages paid to the farmers by their coffee buying partner, Thanksgiving Coffee Company.

delicious peace, documentary, smithsonian, new york times, uganda, fair trade, interfaith, fair trade coffee, jewish nonprofit, documentary production

The documentary is available to educational institutions through the Video Project. In addition, socially-conscious media company Specialty Studios is distributing Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean by organizing Delicious Peace Parties where the film is screened and Fair Trade coffee and chocolate are enjoyed. Please contact them for more information!

The Miraculous Reality of Fair Trade Coffee Farming

March 11, 2013

Our first trip to Mirembe Kawomera (“Delicious Peace”) Coffee Co-op, located in the village of Namanyoni on the outskirts of Mbale, Uganda, was in 2006. The co-op had been founded just two years earlier, the idea of regional leader JJ Keki who sought a market for local farmers’ coffee as well as a way to overcome historical religious-based intolerance. A year after their establishment – also a year before our arrival – they had signed a deal with Fair Trade coffee buyer/roaster/seller Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Fort Bragg, CA.

We went there as a film production team with the goal of creating a documentary about this inspirational farming collective. Still only one year into their arrangement with Thanksgiving, they had just begun selling a small amount of coffee; the first shipment was a single shipping container. We spent several days becoming acquainted with the farmers, and they opened up to us, inviting us into their homes and lives.

One farmer housed 25 children. Only a fraction of those were biologically related; the others were children of parents who had died of AIDS or other causes, or who were otherwise unable to take care of them. Another farmer showed us the graves of three of his children who had passed away, all from malaria. He did not have money to take care of many of the nutritional needs of his extended family, including children and grandchildren. Everyone complained about a lack of funds to send their kids to school. While public schools exist, families are required to pay for books, uniforms and school lunches – an impossibility for many who are poverty stricken.

Simply put, the needs were overwhelming.

And yet, the farmers had been fortunate to find a Fair Trade buyer. Fair Trade guarantees a minimum and fair price, despite the international fluctuation of this commodity market. It also enables farmers to receive a second payment if the quality of the coffee is very good. Mandating egalitarianism and democracy on co-op boards and in the general running of the organization, Fair Trade additionally gives farming cooperatives a “social premium,” enabling them to support local community projects.

fair trade, coffee, uganda, mbala, africa, farmers, documentary, nonprofit

I write this now from Mbale, where we have spent the last five days with the Mirembe Kawomera farmers. It is almost seven years since our first visit. The school-age children of the farmer whose residence was home to 25 now all attend educational institutions. The farmer whose children suffered from unhealthy diets talked about his new-found knowledge of the four food groups, and how his large family is conscious of – and able to – partake in that diet on a daily basis. He has a new home that is covered with an iron roof to keep out the rain rather than the thatched roof that leaked, and his house even has some furniture. Not one farmer complained that his or her children were not able to attend school. And the co-op used its social premium to help build a new wing on a local public school that had become overcrowded.

When I asked the farmers to tell me about problems the co-op still has, each one – interviewed independently — answered the same thing: A thief broke into their warehouse and stole 15 bags of coffee.

Of course, that is awful – every bag represents a huge expenditure of hard work as well as profits. But then, thieves are everywhere. There was no additional complaint.

Pretty good support for the value of Fair Trade. And an important reminder to consumers who have buying choices that not only satisfy their caffeine longings but also have the ability to change individual lives.

My job – when I work on a documentary — is to be a producer, not a marketer. I look for objective facts. In this instance, the argument for the benefit of Fair Trade could not have been more compelling.

Returning to Uganda

March 4, 2013


I remember the first full day of our initial trip to Uganda in October 2006 to produce a documentary about Mirembe Kawomera (“Delicious Peace”) Coffee Co-op. After three days of travel (one from NY to Europe, the second from there to Entebbe Airport, and the third by car up to the Mbale region), we enthusiastically showed up at the entrance of the coffee co-op’s clay-constructed storefront. We were eager to meet the legendary farmers who had formed a collective to bridge interfaith differences and generate economic development through a Fair Trade partnership with California-based buyer, roaster and seller Thanksgiving Coffee Company. Since we had been in touch via email for several months and the executive board had invited us to come, we were ready to break out the cameras following the handshakes and dive into work. Instead, the farmers asked that we sit down for a four-hour meeting that began with the question: “Why should we let you do this?”

At that moment, Curt looked at me and said, “You are the attorney. You can negotiate this. I’m going outside to take pictures. They may be the last ones we get!”

delicious peace, documentary, coffee, fair trade, Uganda

Now here it is, six and a half years after that meeting and three years after the premiere screening of Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean, and we are returning in two weeks for our fifth trip, this time (as the last) with a group of friends in tow.  Dual goals motivate this journey: (1) adding an extra 15-20 minutes of footage for a one-hour TV release focused on co-op updates and the impact of climate change on the farmers’ crops, and (2) introducing more American consumers to the work of the Mirembe Kawomera co-op, helping to spread awareness about their truly delicious coffee and the myriad families whose lives orbit around it.

In many respects, the first aim parallels corporate video production shoots we do around the world for many clients. We have done our homework and know what we want to record, all the necessary equipment is packed and ready to go, a basic schedule is in place, and we have the contact information for folks who will be crucial data-providers.

This assignment, however, comes with advance bonuses. We already have established friendships with farmers in the co-op, who are excited to help with the new phase of the project by devoting days of time when we are present to providing assistance; they understand and appreciate our role in helping to publicize their messages. And – New Yorkers — you know that excited feeling of being with out-of-towners who arrive in New York for the first time and stand in transcendental wonderment upon their initial ascent out of the subway? We will have the opportunity to experience that feeling through the eyes of our trip participants, multiple-fold, beginning with the moment our friend/tourguide Samson drives our group out of the airport onto the streets of Entebbe.

delicious peace, documentary, coffee, Uganda, fair trade

In response to the farmers’ initial question in 2006, I promised a long-term, mutual partnership in which success would be shared. I promised we would produce, complete, and screen the documentary. I said this would be an important avenue to spread the message of the work they are doing to bridge interfaith differences and educate coffee consumers about the hard work of farmers dedicated to specialty coffee production so that purchasing decisions reflect that knowledge. I told them that a successful documentary will trigger interest in their coffee. I told them that we have always established long-term friendships with the people who are the subjects of documentaries we undertake – as we have often done with our corporate video production clients.

Almost seven years later, the documentary has screened (and continues to do so) at over 35 international film festivals with a TV debut in the near future. We have partnered with a distributor committed to creating local educational “Peace Party” screenings around the country. Countless people have watched the program and learned about the important work of the farmers – many are busy talking about it on social media avenues everyday. And we are going back again to visit our friends and continue to develop the informational base.

We’re grateful the farmers took a leap of faith with us and proud to have earned their trust. Uganda, here we come!


Whole Foods’ Do Something Reel Film Festival

December 21, 2012

Watch. Think. Act. These three verbs succinctly sum up the mission of the Do Something Reel Film Festival. Presented by Whole Foods Market, this festival is designed to highlight films that inspire change in their audiences. We were thrilled to learn that Whole Foods selected Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean as its Do Something Reel film for the month of December.

The film, shot through our nonprofit Jemglo over several years in Uganda, tells the incredible story of the Mirembe Kawomera coffee cooperative, the members of whom are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Once at odds with each other, these three groups joined together to build economic development and foster peace in their region. This interfaith message of cooperation has spread to other villages in Uganda as well as to the United States, where the Mirembe Kawomera farmers have partnered with Fair Trade buyer, Thanksgiving Coffee Company.

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The focus of the Do Something Reel Film Festival is to provide “provocative, character-driven films that focus on food, environmental issues and everyday people with a vision of making a world of difference.” In addition to offering the film, Whole Foods has arranged for a number of its stores to host live screenings. One of these screenings is taking place at the Whole Foods store in Little Rock, AR on December 27th. We’re looking forward to seeing how this community responds to the inspiring message of the film and plan to report back with reactions.

If anyone is interested in hosting a live screening, socially-minded media company Specialty Studios is organizing Peace Parties around the film and the coffee that inspired it. It’s a great way to spread the Fair Trade message while enjoying delicious (and fairly traded) coffee and chocolate and other Fair Trade products with your friends and family.

do something reel film festival, whole foods, whole foods market, whole foods little rock, fair trade, coffee, documentary, uganda, interfaith, holiday, party

Spreading Peace in your Starbucks Backyard

November 20, 2012

This month the Delicious Peace photography exhibit of Voices & Visions’ DP Curt Fissel is on display at Starbucks in Glen Ridge, New Jersey because barista Derek Teixeira, a photographer himself, likes to transform the walls of his store into a place artists can show their work. It was his hope that the Glen Ridge Starbucks Community Art Wall would also convey a deeper meaning. “We saw the wall as a way in which to promote the benefits of art. Especially in contemporary times, it really brings together a community,” said Teixeira.

His commitment to promoting community is reflected in the artists it features on the Wall. Last month the students of East Orange Youth Cultural Complex had their art on display. Says Teixeira, “These children worked along side their teacher (and world traveled artist) Miah Leslie in creating collages that both were in homage to Romare Bearden and simultaneously offered its viewers a peek into the mind of a child in 2012 urban America.”

curt fissel, starbucks, voices and visions, corporate video, documentary production

From the “Delicious Peace” show.

This month’s show, Delicious Peace, is a collection of photos taken during the filming of Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean, which is a story about interfaith Ugandan coffee farmers building community and economic development in the face of great adversity. Teixeira draws a parallel between the missions of Starbucks and Delicious Peace, stating, “Its ability to bring people from various religious faiths – Jewish, Muslim and Christian — is in line with what Starbucks aims to do over coffee.”

I always find the greater Montclair region of New Jersey to be a vortex of creative energy. It’s a place where people respect and celebrate each other’s cultures.  At its heart Delicious Peace is about embracing differences and building community. We are thrilled to have found an exhibition space with a mission as similarly positioned. Says Teixeira: “Stop into the Glen Ridge Starbucks on any day, and you’ll see that our store brings together people off all colors, religions, ages and backgrounds! This month’s work couldn’t be any more fitting to help embody that.”


710 Bloomfield Ave.

Glen Ridge, NJ 07028
(973) 743-1752

Starbucks Photo Exhibit

November 16, 2012

Whether the medium is video or stills, talented photographers see space in ways others do not. Curt Fissel, our DP at Voices & Visions Productions and JEMGLO Productions, carries this third eye around with him wherever our jobs take us. Sometimes our destination is a corporate video shoot when his task is to transform a boring boardroom into a compelling interview space. Other times it’s in the field shooting footage for an upcoming documentary. Some of the places our projects have taken us are beautiful landscapes, others war-torn, but few places stand out like the Mbale region of Uganda, where we shot Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean.

curt fissel, starbucks, voices and visions, corporate video, documentary productionIn addition to capturing hundreds of hours of footage in this beautiful Eden, Curt also documented the essence of Ugandan life through his first love: the still photo. Living in the artsy epicenter of Montclair, NJ, he has had the opportunity to show his “Delicious Peace” photo exhibit at several locations, including the Montclair Public Library during African American History Month and Parlor Hair Studio’s wall gallery. This month the show is at a Starbucks in the next door township of Glen Ridge.

The documentary tells the story of the Mirembe Kawomera coffee cooperative in Uganda, which is comprised  of Jewish, Muslim and Christian famers. Once at odds with each other over religious differences, these men and women have united by forming the co-op together, focused on  building prosperity for their families and fostering peace in their community. Their story is one of triumph; their initiative is a model for the world.

curt fissel, starbucks, voices and visions, corporate video, documentary production

The nature of Starbucks’ business and its corporate philosopahy make it, an appropriate location for this photo exhibition. Curt is very excited about the exhibition being held throughout the month of November, and we hope everyone in the area is able to stop by to see it! The farmers’ story is a message of peace. Our goal is to spread the framework of peace they have created through art, coffee and film. Bridges Virtual and Real Over Love of Coffee

November 8, 2012

Catalin Munteanu greeted my husband Curt and me two weeks ago in Café Lauri in Lohja, Finland carrying roses and euro cents for the parking meter. Until that moment, Catalin’s personality had been boxed in words and pictures on screen for us, as ours had been for him. Of course, online posts summarized in a few sentences at a time hardly shed light on a person’s inner being. That task requires an in-person meeting. From the outset, bridging the void between group-focused friendships and face-to-face relationships was a key goal of the fledgling social media site, and this meeting between Catalin and us was destined to be the first experiment, made possible because a client of our video company Voices & Visions Productions had sent us to Finland for a corporate video shoot.

About two years ago my friend Spyros Dellaportas in Santa Monica, California started an open group on Facebook called Enjoy Your Coffee. “Ellen, thees ees going to be the beeggest group on Facebook,” he told me in his charming Greek-accented English. I smiled because one has to smile when Spyros is excited. Every morning for decades he goes to Peet’s Coffee on 14th Street and Montana Avenue, reserving an outdoor table that expands with coffee drinkers through the pre-work hours. He brings chocolates for the kids who come by and biscuits for the dogs. People scramble to sit next to him and collect the happy energy that radiates out of his presence. He tells silly jokes that make him giggle, and his reaction makes others laugh more than the punch lines. He finds occasions to bring cakes to celebrate birthdays and otherwise undefined happydays, insisting that every passer-by try a slice of the daily special. He wears bright-colored t-shirts and Hawaiian prints and drives a neon yellow convertible Corvette.

And he doesn’t really understand how to use the Internet. But this Enjoy Your Coffee group, he insisted, would be the beeggest group on Facebook. So when it made Spyros smile, I smiled too.

And then Enjoy Your Coffee began to swell with members despite the lack of a formal plan for social media marketing or even a volunteer assigned to the job. Spyros did no outreach – remember, IT is not his specialty. Instead, he posted daily photos of the coffee group. He also posted photos of beautiful cakes and cappuccinos with artistic designs on top. He posted images of himself with his canine friends or of pretty scenes wherever. He posted lots of photos everyday, and each time he posted something, a notice was pinged to the collection of members. 200 members. 400. 1,000…

Ping! Spyros Dellaportas has posted on Enjoy Your Coffee (photo of himself in bright orange shirt smiling as he drinks his coffee).

Ping! Spyros Dellaportas has posted on Enjoy Your Coffee (photo of himself with the local moms and pre-schoolers).

Ping! Spyros Dellaportas has posted on Enjoy Your Coffee (mother-in-law joke).


I kept thinking: Poor Spyros. People will soon unjoin this group. Who has time for these diversions?

Then: 2,500 members. 3,000. As of this writing: 4,317.

Just as I was beginning to recognize that Spyros was onto something, he approached me again. “Ellen, now we need to create our own coffee social network! It will be the beeggest social network!” I smiled, because Spyros was excited. And when he asked for help in putting it together and assumed I’d be involved, I responded affirmatively. No one who enjoys the company of special people turns down that happy face.

Spyros gathered together a group of friends from the morning coffee klatsch to help him spearhead this initiative. After a few drinks and some truffle-salted fries (since this adventure was intended to be fun, first and foremost) we addressed a cornerstone question: How would we distinguish from other social networks?

We realized that what we all have in common is shared coffee time together every weekday at Peet’s roughly between 7:00 to 9:00 am (on scattered schedules). Our lives diverge completely the rest of each day in work, ideology, interests, and a host of things that might otherwise be divisive, but in those hours we are one unified coffee group in Santa Monica, California. We were aware, too, that groups like ours meet in West Hollywood, a few miles away. And San Francisco and New Orleans. And in New York, albeit indoors for most of the year. In Europe as well, and Asia and South America. There were people enjoying their coffee around the world, together, everyday, as we did.

Then we thought: What if we could create as a collection of coffee groups (and unaffiliated individuals) internationally, each of which/whom would be an in-person welcome pad for others when visiting its home territory? In this way, worldwide members could establish friendships everywhere we travel, bonded by and the love of this drink that we all share.

So that was thought. The meeting with Catalin was the first reality.

We met him at his favorite coffee shop in the Finnish town of Lohja, where Catalin currently lives, located about an hour outside Helsinki. It was easy to spot him when we walked in – of course, because he had posted photos of himself online, but also because a coffee mug with a big logo plastered around its perimeter sat on his table. The logo had been designed by Spyros – that had been one of his bevy of professions – and he took delight in attaching it to coffee mugs, videos, t-shirts, and whatever other objects could comfortably advertise this new social network that made him smile. He was also happy to send the promotional mug and some other materials to supporters everywhere on the planet as committed to this project as Catalin. Next to Catalin’s mug sat a looseleaf notebook (sporting as its cover a super-sized print of the EYC logo) containing a ream of information about this new entity-under-development. Catalin, after all, had been crowned the Finnish Ambassador to EYC.

We drank coffee together and learned about each other. In 2010 Curt and I had produced a documentary entitled Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean about an interfaith coffee cooperative in Uganda, and through the documentary we became very knowledgeable about the crop/commodity/addiction/pleasure. Catalin, a lover of the drink, could qualify as a Jeopardy contestant given all coffee subcategories of questions. He’s read the important volumes about the subject; knows about coffee production and flavors from countries around the world; is aware of the best growing, picking and roasting conditions; and knows about the plethora of ways of serving it. He is as sensitive to its flavors as a top oenologist is to the Wine Enthusiast’s choices. One day he’d like to have a coffee shop of his own, for which he’s already envisioned all the “must have” elements. But for the moment he’s content to drink his coffee at Café Lauri, the sole place in Lohja a coffee connoisseur would dare to bring appreciative guests.

(Interestingly, a woman at the next table overhearing our conversation chimed in her dissatisfaction with coffee in Finland. She had just put in a bid on a home in southern France, where she can drink good coffee, she said. Incidentally: It’s comments like these amongst coffee lovers internationally that spark the formation of regular coffee groups at coffee houses with members who post on coffee social network sites like

Curt and I left our in-person meeting with Catalin carrying a few little gifts he had bought for Spyros (can’t say more until I see Spyros to deliver them – but I know they will bring him joy). Catalin has never met Spyros, and until I called our friend from the table at Café Lauri where we were enjoying our coffee to Spyros’ table at Peet’s in Santa Monica, the two men had never heard each other’s voice. Yet somehow Spyros’ smile had contagiously affected Catalin,’s newest ambassador.

The next day Curt and I departed from Finland with more than videotapes we had shot for our client. We left with a feeling that we had made a new friendship through which we had the opportunity to experience a real-life snapshot of Finland. This relationship had born out of enjoyment of our coffee, expressed first in actuality at Spyros’ daily coffee table, then virtually through the social media site he had created to expand his morning experience into the boundless world of the Internet, then in actuality again, this time across the globe, unifying folks who are eager to establish friendships over a shared bond of coffee enjoyment.

To quote Spyros: “The rest is history! Enjoy Your Coffee!”