How Hugh Jackman's Connection With an Ethiopian Coffee Farmer Led to a Fair-Trade Documentary

Dukale's Dream Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Workhorse PR

Dukale's Dream Still - H 2015

The star and his 'Dukale's Dream' director say they hope their film, which developed organically over the past six years, can help people see the significance of their choices as consumers.

In 2009, Hugh Jackman and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, went to Ethiopia as part of their work with humanitarian-aid organization World Vision, for which they both serve as ambassadors. There, they met a coffee farmer named Dukale who was trying to provide for his family and learned about the benefits of fair-trade coffee. Jackman's experience meeting and working alongside Dukale in Africa ultimately inspired him to create his fair-trade Laughing Man Coffee and Tea brand and the Dukale's Dream blend. The company even buys coffee beans from Dukale and 100 percent of Laughing Man's profits go to charity.

This storyline is all chronicled in the new documentary Dukale's Dream, which is now playing in select theaters and will be available on VOD, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon on July 14. Even though Laughing Man has been up and running since 2011 and Dukale's role in its creation has been described in stories about the company, Jackman tells The Hollywood Reporter he hopes that seeing his journey can help people grasp the significance of their decisions about the products they buy.

"I'm kind of playing the role of everyman here, who kind of sort of understood what fair trade was but in reality didn't, and now by tracing that story right through to the cafe in New York, people can just visually understand that the simple choice that they can make can make such a massive difference on the other end of the chain," he says.

Director Josh Rothstein adds of the film's goal, "The real agenda here is to spread the message of ethically traded products, responsibly sourced coffee. Ideally we make a real impact on viewers and audiences here so they have a stronger connection to and understanding of the coffee they purchase every day. We're hoping that our film can just amplify some of the messages that people in this space have been working on for a long time."

"I think that we have a long way to go in our connection to the products we use in our everyday life," Rothstein continues. "We're hoping that our film can in some ways just be the beginning of sparking that conversation or thought process of like, 'Hey, where do all of these things come from? What are the implications of me making this choice or that choice?' If we can begin to whet the palate and really get those ideas moving, ideally actionable as well, where individuals are changing their purchase habits, that would be fantastic."

Rothstein originally started filming footage for what became the Dukale's Dream documentary when he accompanied Jackman and Furness on their trip to Ethiopia, with the idea then just to document World Vision's development work for a short piece about the organization, Jackman and Rothstein explain. While Jackman, who had been on a World Vision trip before and has long been involved with the organization, expected to be inspired by the work that they were doing, Rothstein says it was just "happenstance" that they met Dukale.

The documentary developed organically over the next six years, they both say, as Jackman's interest increased and he started Laughing Man.

"I think as the story grew, it sort of naturally grew from making a promise to Dukale to do something to speaking at the U.N. to creating a coffee brand to putting Dukale's name on it and using and actually buying his beans and selling it in our cafe to that kind of fairy-tale ending … of the Keurig Green Mountain partnership, it just sort of expanded," Jackman tells THR of the film's development, touching upon key moments in his journey and the documentary. 

Rothstein says he first got the sense that there could be a story about Hugh and Dukale when they were in Ethiopia.

"When Hugh and Dukale met, there was just an intangible connection and sort of an immediate camaraderie and friendship between the two guys sort of despite language barriers," Rothstein explains. "But it wasn't until I got back and looked at that footage and was like, 'Wow, that really translates,' that there was an inkling that I had at least as a filmmaker. I remember thinking at the time, actually, 'Ah, it's too bad we don't have more footage because that would be great.' On the same hand I was sort of like I don't know what the story would be except Hugh meets this coffee farmer."

When Jackman started Laughing Man, Rothstein began to see the documentary's storyline.

"Jumping ahead three years later when Hugh started the coffee company, I was like, 'Wow, this is very interesting now,' because obviously there's connective tissue between his interest in coffee and starting the company and his desire to reconnect with his friend," Rothstein says.

Jackman says he and Dukale have continued to exchange letters, and the actor plans to go back, with his children, who served as the namesakes of two trees he and Dukale planted.

"I've made a promise to him that I'll go back and I've been waiting in a way for my kids to be old enough," Jackman says. "Now that they've grown up, I think as soon as we have time we'd love to go back. The Oscar and Ava trees that I planted are now actually bearing fruit and coffee beans that are being sold in our cafe, which is kind of fantastic to me. So I'd love to go back and actually see [Dukale] again and his family because he was a really inspiring man."

Watch the Dukale's Dream trailer below.