El Cacao

The Challenge of Fair Trade
Year Released
Film Length(s)
20 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


In the lush rainforest of Bocas del Toro, Panama, an indigenous cacao farmer, his wife and grandchildren confront environmental and economic complexities as they grow, harvest and sell cacao beans for a global chocolate market. Does Fair Trade Certification really work? Documenting the exceptional wisdom, unconditional devotion and proven ancient farming techniques of one hard-working Ngäbe farmer, Samuel Murillo, El Cacao complicates the question by examining the fairness of his trade.

Featured review

El Cacao provides an intimate portrayal of the realities of producing cacao under the Fair Trade label... an insightful film that interweaves the economic, social, and environmental complexities of the chocolate commodity food chain.
Emilia Noel Ptak The University of Vermont
Food Anthropology


El Cacao exposes the dark side of chocolate production in Latin America by examining the economics of Fair Trade from the point of view of the indigenous farmers as they attempt to sustain their community through the growth, harvest, and trade of cacao beans in the global market. This 20-minute documentary film highlights the life of an indigenous Ngäbe farmer in Panama and his unconditional devotion to this so-called “superfood.” The film threads together the themes of neoliberal ideology, human rights, and the economics of the chocolate industry. While the demand for chocolate in developed nations continues to rise, the farmers in developing countries, like Panama, are rarely awarded the economic incentive promised to them.

The film utilizes cinema vérité techniques with candid interviews. Most of the film hinges on intimate shots in personal working and living space within a small Ngäbe community in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama.


El Cacao is a gem of a documentary film. I've used it in my class on consumption for a couple of years, and will continue to do so. The film takes you right there, following the farmer and his family's journey every step of the way through forest clearings, harvesting and processing the beans, dealing with disease, to the culmination: selling the beans to the co-operative market, showing how cacao becomes sheer commodity. Yet it does all this with great efficiency, an ethnographic snapshot that doesn't outstay its welcome— other documentaries would be twice or three times as long. Along with the excellent accompanying Study Guide for the film, this means class discussions can be more focused and productive. Highly recommended.'
Dr. Mark Paterson Associate Professor
Director of Graduate Studies Department of Sociology University of Pittsburgh
I highly recommend El Cacao to Spanish and Social Studies teachers as there are many themes that can be explored and discussed after viewing. Two thumbs up!
Stephanie Alfaro -Spanish teacher
Weymouth High School
The students were always engaged throughout the film, and inspired to ask meaningful questions following the screening... I received glowing feedback from teachers who were thrilled to have had the opportunity to bring a global story into the classroom.
-Sarah Briggs - Big Sky Film Festival
-Sarah Briggs - Big Sky Film Festival

Awards and Screenings

WINNER- Best Short Film- Social Justice Film Festival , 2015
NOMINATED- David Wolper IDA Award, 2015
OFFICIAL SELECTION-Margaret Mead Film Festival , 2015
OFFICIAL SELECTION- Napa Valley Film Festival, 2015
OFFICIAL SELECTION- Big Sky Film Festival , 2016
OFFICIAL SELECTION- DC Environmental Film Festival, 2015
OFFICIAL SELECTION- Carmel Film Festival, 2015
OFFICIAL SELECTION- San Luis Obispo Film Festival
OFFICIAL SELECTION- Social Justice Film Festival, 2015
OFFICIAL SELECTION- Awareness Film Festival , 2015
OFFICIAL SELECTION- Watsonville Film Festival , 2015
FINALIST- Moe Award- Environmental Film Festival, 2015

Director Commentary

I had the opportunity to live and work alongside this group of cacao farmers for over two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama. After learning the ins and outs of the cacao trade and working alongside the farmers, I was honored to be welcomed back 2 years later to film El Cacao.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Resources for Educators

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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