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On an island known for its tropical beauty, tourists flock to the resorts of the Dominican Republic. Not 10 miles away, thousands of dispossessed Haitians labor in the sugarcane fields under slave-like conditions, cutting cane that will eventually end up in the United States as sugar. Narrated by Paul Newman, director/co-writer Bill Haney's documentary follows Father Christopher Hartley, a charismatic Spanish priest, as he organizes some of this hemisphere's poorest people to fight for their basic human rights. Father Hartley must go up against one of the country's most powerful sugar baron families, the Vicinis, and even the government of the Dominican Republic, to give voice to these Haitians, frequently receiving threats to his own life.
 

 The Price of Sugar

Pure, crystalline, white cane sugar.

Simple and sweet. That’s how I used to think about it. But making documentaries casts light on the world in unpredictable ways; now I understand The Price of Sugar.

Some 500 years ago, as colonial empires began to swell, slavery came to the Americas. Its early roots took hold on the island of Hispaniola—an island now shared between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Most of the slaves who survived the brutal voyage were forced to labor on sugar cane plantations where greed and cruelty knew few bounds.

When Mother Teresa first met Christopher Hartley, 30 years ago in London, she couldn’t have known what a committed acolyte he would become. After all, he was but a teenager.

Born of a wealthy British industrialist father and an aristocratic Spanish mother, Hartley had only recently abandoned his privileged upbringing to become a Catholic seminarian. Soon he would follow Mother Teresa to Calcutta.

So would begin a 20-year journey that would see Hartley cross the globe for Mother Teresa, get his PhD in Rome and be ordained by Pope John Paul II, then find his way to the sugar cane plantations of the Dominican Republic—where we met.

My partners, Tim Disney and Eric Grunebaum, and I have yet to diagram out a documentary in advance—plot it out with the care of intentionality. Rather, we stumble over a character, setting or story so captivating we’re willing to commit the years needed to find what truth in it we can. So it was with Father Christopher. I was bringing medical supplies to poor rural hospitals; he was building a hospital. He took me behind the walls of cane that block the tourists going to Dominican beaches from seeing the life of the country’s Haitian immigrant laborers.

The widespread rejection of slavery has to be one of the great social achievements of the past 200 years. Though hideous in every imaginable way to us, slavery had been part of the fabric of human history since there was human history.

Yet, even now, the International Labor Organization estimates that more than 10 million people work as “modern day slaves” or “forced laborers.” When Father Christopher took over a small rural parish in the Dominican Republic, he was stunned to find that the abusive conditions under which his parishioners struggled evoked every ugly image of sugar’s inglorious past.

In the face of ferocious attacks by the company profiting from the existing conditions, he chose to risk his life for change. His extraordinarily compelling story is our story.

Socrates famously said that there are always three truths: your truth, my truth and the truth.

Two hundred hours of film shot over three years in Europe, the United States and the Dominican Republic, 70 interviews, dozens and dozens of international media sources reviewed, thousands of hours of fact-checking, and 12 months of editing taught me the truth as Father Christopher found it.

It helped me understand why the Haitians who labor on the Dominican sugar plantations claim sugar is not white but blood red. It helped me understand why the glorious human rights campaign that stopped slavery is far from over.

Sugar is no longer so sweet for me. The Price of Sugar is too high.