“A Small Section of the World” explores intricacies of coffee trade through feminist lens

By Carter Glace

Courtesy of The National

“A Small Section of the World” takes an interesting look at work of ASOMOBI, a community of women in Costa Rica who joined together to create a coffee producing organization to confront the poverty and unemployment in their village. For a little over an hour, it is simply amazing how much ground the documentary covers, and like many great documentaries, is able to capture the broader scope of the issues and themes at play.

“Small Section” does keep the primary focus on the origins of ASOMOBI. For someone who literally knows nothing about coffee or the process needed to cultivate the plant (I still can’t tell a latte from a mocha), the film keeps it simple enough to avoid alienating the viewer. The key: making coffee is an absurdly intricate, difficult and borderline artistic process that takes years to master. That would be enough of a struggle for the many women of ASOMOBI to overcome, but there was (and is) so much more working against them: the lack of business experience, the cultural conflict stemming from disproving men, the fact many of the women in the village lack an education and that sinking realization that selling coffee isn’t enough to keep the enterprise floating. Effort is put into relaying how much of an unprecedented struggle this project was for the women, and the documentary does a strong job showing that only incredibly willed people could pull this off.

But just as importantly, there is a great amount of service to the cultural evolution going on in the coffee industry. A few decades have seen the male dominated space open up to females across the world, as well as the rise of small-scale producers and community driven productions. The core of the film is addressing the monumental efforts needed to help these village-based efforts continue to thrive by fighting for better prices for the farmers and increasing education for women. Like I said, good documentaries remember the bigger issue at play, and this one clearly understands that the efforts of ASOMOBI are part of a far greater battle to combat poverty and help the plight of women in the third word. The film actually ends on a young member of the organization presenting her college thesis in Italy for an international women’s organization, a reminder that their battle is far larger in scope than just one village.

It is especially impressive considering that all of this is done in an hour. Yes, the film clocks in at 62 minutes, but covers all of this ground, a true testament to pacing and streamlining. However, that streamed process doesn’t come without some flaws. Every now and then, the film will give a surface level reading of what seems like a pretty interesting topic in itself that you wish could be given the proper time to be understood. For example, they discuss how the village became a tourist area that the women capitalized on by making a lodge that provided an extreme amount of income, only to burn down in a tragic fire. This was discussed in less than seven minutes, when it seems like something that could get 20 minutes of a feature length film. A few moments like that arrive that seem to hold the film back from being truly great.

But all in all, “A Small Section of the World” is a fascinating look into the efforts by a community to dig out of the poverty that society has seemingly forsaken them to while battling the cultural stigmas that hold them back from a better life.

Carter Glace is a contributing writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.


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