Full synopsis of The Fair Trade movie

The Fair Trade movieI keep forgetting that many who read this blog have not yet seen the movie. So I am going to post the full synopsis, from the press kit (wonderfully put together by Rayne Roberts):

In the innovative documentary The Fair Trade, director Lauralee Farrer explores the murky territory between life, death, and the sustaining hope offered by abandonment to faith. The Fair Trade is the story of a young woman’s journey through paralyzing grief and her ultimate determination to exchange a death wish for a meaningful life.

In 2004, Tamara Johnston’s life was filled with love, success, and endless possibility. She was soon to be engaged to her life-long love, Matthew, and she was living out her career dreams as she successfully moved up the ranks in the film industry working with filmmakers such as Robert Zemeckis, Tom Hanks, and Steve Starkey.

On November 17th, 2004, everything changed.

Just days before they were scheduled to leave on a long-planned trip to Europe, Matthew stepped out of his truck in front of his apartment just as an elderly neighbor lost control of her car and headed straight for him. She meant to slam on her brakes but hit her accelerator instead.

His life ended less than 24 hours later.

In his pockets, police found the cash intended for an engagement ring, though Matthew’s rehearsed proposal of marriage was never delivered. ”We were both in that accident together,” Tamara says, “but we were separated for life by it.” Instead she was left behind to build a new life in the shadow of his death.

What followed was grief, despair and a compelling temptation to follow Matthew into the relief of heaven. Yet, paralyzed by her faith in God, she could not resign herself to death at her own
hand. To relieve herself of a suffering that threatened to drive her crazy, she made a bargain with God: Show me a life that is still worth living, or I am out of here.

Motivated to raise funds for a school that would be built in Matthew’s name in Ethiopia, Tamara, her twin sister Shelby, and Shelby’s husband, Steve, began exploring imaginative ways to make money. In their explorations, the trio realized the potential of achieving that goal while also actively helping alleviate poverty in Africa by participating in the fair trade movement.

In 2005, the trio created Anti-Body, one of the U.S.’s first fair trade skincare companies. Anti-Body hand-manufactures soap, moisturizers, lip balms, and body oils using natural and fair trade ingredients. Tamara quit her studio film job at Dreamworks, Shelby turned away from her career as an art history professor at California State University and Steve left his job as a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Anti-Body took off while they created a new model of entrepreneurial activism and enjoyed precocious success, despite the fact that their financial investments would take years to turn a profit.

A year and a half after the accident, Tamara was working on a documentary for Oxfam and Heifer International, making third screen videos for treehuggertv.com, marketing her own business, and entering a film production partnership. She even began to date again. On all accounts from the outside, she was recovering bravely and beautifully. However, her despair grew, because even in the light of such healthy recovery and opportunity, nothing filled the void she felt when she was alone. Nothing touched the chasm of grief that still ran under the current of her life.

As time passed in her bargain with God, an opportune trip to Africa gave Tamara a glimpse of what would be required of her in exchange for a sustainable life. By being given witness of how her efforts have meant the difference between life and death for 65 women in Togo, Africa at the fair trade co-op from whom Anti-Body purchases ingredients, she came face to face with a meaningful life. In these women, she saw herself reflected back: all had equal stories of tragedy to share—children lost to starvation, husbands lost to AIDS, whole families wiped out.

Yet they had been given a chance to live in dignity and purpose instead of despair, because of Tamara’s efforts. As the documentary narration puts it, “It’s hard to look that reality in the eye and still beg God for death.” The mystery of sacrificing her life in order to re-discover it quietly began to work on her, and the idea of “fair trade” suddenly began to take on new meaning. Not because of newfound success, happiness, or even relief from crushing grief. The question, “How do I find a meaningful life?” flowered into an unexpected answer: It’s not about me. The humbling profundity of her two-year journey began to take root in her, activating a desire she thought gone forever: to live.

The Fair Trade propels us into the inner life of a young woman’s struggle with grief and love lost. It explores the essence of actions that have deep motivations by employing a unique approach to documenting both the surface and the internal life of it’s subject. It confronts the age-old questions, Why am I here? How do I make this life count? The Fair Trade speaks to young activists who want to create a better life as loudly as it speaks to middle-aged boomers caught in the gap between youthful intentions and aging realities.

As it takes us into the heart of the fair trade movement and the story of a young woman prematurely aged by grief, the film engages the attention of anyone aware enough to ask, “Is this all there is?”


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