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Interview with the filmmaker

June 27, 2011

Would you eat chocolate if you knew enslaved children had helped make it? U. Robert Romano's documentaries are meant to be hard-hitting - and the stories are true.

Scene from Miki Mistrati and Roberto Romano's film 'The Dark Side of Chocolate'
Your chocolate bar may have been produced with the help of child slavesImage: Monday Media

U. Roberto Romano is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer and human rights educator. A number of his documentary films deal with human rights violations, including his most recent "The Dark Side of Chocolate" - an expose of slavery in the West African cocoa trade. He serves as a consultant to the United States government on human rights issues.

Click on the link below to listen to the full interview with U. Roberto Romano.

Deutsche Welle: How did you get involved in documentary filmmaking and how effective do you find the medium in conveying human rights messages?

U. Roberto Romano
U. Roberto Romano is a human rights advisorImage: GMF

U. Roberto Romano: It started when I did a film called "Death of a Slave Boy" - a follow-up to "The Carpet," a film by Magnus Bergmar which had aired on Swedish television. I believe it was one of the first films that really brought child labor to a general consciousness by playing in Europe, and it raised an incredible uproar and forced many of us in the western world, particularly in Europe, to realize that some of the goods in our houses were actually made by children - or worse, made by slaves.

Do you ever fear for the safety of the people portrayed in your films?

(...) I began doing these films with the knowledge that the people whose stories I told needed to be protected. The abuses that they suffer needed to be exposed but they themselves needed to be protected. So in my subsequent films I always went in with that in mind.

Who have you got in mind as far as who will see this film, "The Dark Side of Chocolate"?

I think each film has a different target. We may all sort of share that we want it to go to the theaters or we want the general public to know. But when you make a movie, there should be some sort of campaign designed around it, especially with theatrical releases. So you try to put together the best possible consortium you can to get the word out.

So with "The Dark Side of Chocolate" that I made with Miki Mistrati we realized that this was a film that had political links in the European Union and also America and that we could work with activists, such as Green America, International Labor Rights Forum and all the other groups that were wanting the major chocolate companies to go fair-trade. (…)

Scene from Miki Mistrati and Roberto Romano's film 'The Dark Side of Chocolate'
Romano's documentary uncoveres a largely unexposed issueImage: Monday Media

As a storyteller, what do you think is more powerful: fiction or non-fiction?

Both. I make documentaries, so I really can't speak to the efficacy of narrative films as a producer of content. But what I can say is this: One of my protégés in India has gone on to become one of their leading young directors. In India, he made a socially responsible soap opera that dealt with female infanticide. That was a very, very good way, in that culture, in that community, to get the word out. (…)

For any story, whether it's going to be documentary or a fictional narrative, I think the quality of the message behind it should be undiminished. I don't think that form compromises content in that respect.

I always remember, there was a wonderful French filmmaker in the Nouvelle Vague by the name of Jean-Luc Godard and I think he said it was the dream of all narrative films to become documentaries and the dream of all documentaries to become narratives.

Interview: Breandáin O'Shea / kjb

Editor: Sue Cox