In a town buried in the jungles of Grenada, there stands a small cocoa production facility. Inside, Mott Green tinkers with equipment in a frenetic way that recalls the image of a mad scientist bringing some creation to life. However, what Green brings to life is cocoa. In Kum-Kum Bhavnani’s understated documentary Nothing Like Chocolate, central issues of economic disparity and the use of slave labor in the cocoa trade occasionally drift into the light. However, the soul of the film rests in the village of Hermitage and the man responsible for the grassroots creation of the Grenada Chocolate Company. Green brews cocoa beans in water as if it were coffee, he visits new prospective farmers out in the jungle to assure the land is free of chemicals, and he sells chocolate bon bons at a shop in town. He even picks up his coworker’s son from school on a daily basis and teaches the boy how to drive. In effect, this is a man who has completely immersed himself in another world in pursuit of a dream: to build something honest and organic around his love for chocolate.
The film begins with a voice over that feels a bit like an informative commercial, but soon finds its footing with intimate character studies of Mott Green and the cocoa farmers of Grenada. Immediately, you get a sense of Green’s daily routine, and how satisfying his work is to him. Meanwhile, the surrounding environment evokes a simpler era free of the burden of excess technology, where people feel a bond with the land. The tradeoff for this bond, however, is a lack of economic stability. It would be easy to romanticize the lives portrayed on film without acknowledging the hardships that go with them, and the people of Grenada truly are warm and positive throughout their interviews. Still, one cannot ignore the oddity of seeing people struggle to get by in a land that flourishes, in which brilliant green vegetation encroaches on every frame. The film does not linger on issues of poverty, but highlights how Green’s company helps to provide the town its economic lifeblood. Gradually, the viewer begins to understand a delicate ecosystem in Hermitage maintained in part by Green’s entrepreneurial spirit.
If this account was all the film had to offer, it could not justify its length. But the longer the viewer stays with the film, the more they learn of Green. While he loves his company, Green has poured his soul into keeping it afloat and long hours keep him from forming lasting relationships outside of work. He mourns the death of his business partner, and admits he does not believe in an afterlife. He also admits to feeling affection for a woman he works with, but does not believe he will ever act on those feelings. The positive impact of his company on the town cannot be denied, and Green revels in showing children the inner workings of his factory and hiring new cocoa farmers. He is alone in a foreign country, and feels that isolation, yet also enjoys being in his element. Simply told, he has given his life to a simple and beautiful ideal, and while the ideal lives he has allowed himself to become a shadow.
The film’s brief research into slave labor and the practices of other chocolate companies helps to accentuate the importance of the Grenada Chocolate Company. Most importantly, expert interviews detail how cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast have trafficked children from neighboring countries to work against their will. This is a practice that still lives today, though the extent of which remains unknown. However, in a surprising move several chocolate company executives go on camera in Nothing Like Chocolate, stating that the price of cocoa beans far outweighs any concerns about child slavery. These are people who can admit that the idea of slavery itself is abhorrent, but seem to say that a business’ need necessarily divorces the product of its meaning. At the end of the day, the cocoa beans become a financial statistic and a wall is placed between the companies and any wrong doing on behalf of the farmers.
In contrast, Mott Green’s company removes the barrier between the harvest and the production of chocolate. As a result, Green can watch over a chocolate bar being made from beginning to finish. True, this may not sound like much, but the barrier between industry and product is what makes it possible for companies to drench food in chemicals so it keeps longer. The barrier makes it possible for companies to ignore the injustice of child labor for the convenience of price. This barrier, this self-induced separation between spheres of business hailing back to the industrial age, turns a product into an abstraction, just a number on a ledger. By focusing on creating something pure and organic, and seeing it through to completion, Green has attempted in his own small way to offer something positive to the world.
Jacob Mertens is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.