The ‘war on chocolate’ pits a human rights lawyer against corporate America

After watching Danish director Miki Mistrati’s “War on Chocolate,” which makes its world premiere at CPH:DOX this week, chances are you’ll think twice about buying your next chocolate bar.

That’s what happened to Mistrati in the early 2000s when he was shopping at his local supermarket. Spoiled for choice, he looked at all the different chocolate bars and only found one out of seven that bore the Fair Trade mark. “So I started thinking, if one is fair, what about the other six chocolate bars?” he says.

This marked the start of his journey to investigate child slavery on the cocoa plantations of Ivory Coast and Ghana, the two largest cocoa producers in the world. It started with “The Dark Side of Chocolate” released in 2009 and was followed by “Shady Chocolate” in 2012. “The War on Chocolate” is the third installment.

Its main protagonist is prominent American human rights lawyer Terry Collingsworth, who has dedicated his life to fighting some of the biggest corporations in the world. The film follows him as he travels to Africa to collect evidence in order to have Nestlé and Cargill convicted of complicity in child slavery by the United States Supreme Court.

“This third film has practically nothing to do with the first two in terms of how it’s done: in the first two I was the main character, I led the investigation, whereas it’s a film without a voice-over: I wanted to make Terry a Jason Bourne-esque character and give the doc a thriller feel,” he explains to Variety. Mistrati brought in Norwegian composer Marius Christiansen to produce the film’s dramatic score.

During his trip to Ivory Coast in late 2019, Collingsworth and two UC Berkeley research students paid an unannounced visit to a government and NGO-supported child slavery rehabilitation center. In one scene, the team walks around the center, its library and dormitory, which seem oddly empty and tidy. Collingsworth makes it clear that he believes the whole place is an empty shell.

“The War on Chocolate”
Courtesy of Made in Copenhagen

When asked why no children were to be seen in the center, Mistrati said they received a succession of different responses, ranging from stating that the children were in the TV room to stating that ‘they were sleeping in the dormitory – which is seen as empty in the footage.

In a recent podcast on Danish public radio’s news program “Genstart,” the New York Times’ equivalent of “The Daily,” Mistrati spoke about a letter he says he received from lawyers representing the First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, Dominique Ouattara, who chairs the foundation that built the center. They are asking the film’s production company, Made in Copenhagen, to hand over the entire footage shot to the center under penalty of defamation.

“Of course, we won’t put our film back on,” Mistrati exclaims. When asked what the next step is, he replies, “I want to release the film in the US market. The next step is for Terry to have them convicted, which is the only language they understand: if they are convicted, the billions of dollars they will have to pay will stop them right away,” he says.

Mistrati, who grew up in a state-owned apartment in Copenhagen, says he sees himself in Collingsworth and has made it his mission to make a difference and be the voice of those who are treated unfairly, by especially children.

Her upcoming projects include a documentary on children’s rights. The director is also working on another case with Collingsworth regarding controversial cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as a documentary with the children of IS fighters.

Nominated for an F:act Award, “The Chocolate War” has its world premiere at CPH:DOX on March 23. It was sold widely in Scandinavian territories and beyond by DR Sales, which has two other films at CPH:DOX: “All That Remains to Be Seen” by Julie Bezerra Madsen in the Nordic:Dox and Politiken:Dox categories , and “Terroir to Table” by Rasmus Dinesen in the Danish:Dox section.

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