Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a documentary about a documentary, and a very interesting one at that. In 2009, Swedish filmmaker and journalist Fredrik Gertten acted as executive producer of a film called Bananas!* , which detailed the lawsuit of Nicaraguan banana farm workers against the world’s largest fruit company, the multinational corporation Dole. In the lawsuit, Dole was found liable for adverse health effects caused by a toxic pesticide to which workers were exposed. However, as Bananas!* was about to premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Dole launched an all-out campaign of legal threats against pretty much anyone they could think of: the filmmakers, the festival, the festival’s sponsors, the media covering the film’s release, etc.
In the great tradition of documenataries that are deeply mistrustful of corporations, the film begins by immediately assuming the nefarious intentions of Dole, as it details the progress of the lawsuit against the film. This is established without much evidence, at first, which casts initial doubt on the film’s claims (Dole, for their part, asserted that the film was based on false claims by the workers who brought the initial lawsuit against them). Very quickly, however, it becomes clearer and clearer that the filmmaker’s distrust of the multinational corporation is fully justified: as evidence of Dole’s misdeeds and threats begins to pile up, and media coverage and support for the film remains silent, it becomes painfully evident that Dole has their hands in, of course, all the right pockets.
The film features commentators like Steve Rendall, a senior analyst at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), who is quick to point out the massive extent to which the American (and probably global) media is in bed with corporate interests, certainly a claim we’ve heard before. In this case, Dole went all-out with their shoot-the-messenger strategy; they discredited (through the mainstream media, of course) not only the filmmakers and production company, but also all the claimants of the original lawsuit against them, and especially the lawyer who brought their claim to court.
Surprisingly, and pleasantly, the Swedish media and governments wouldn’t have any of Dole’s bully tactics; they stood up for the filmmakers and ignited a national outcry over not only Dole’s censorship and threats, but also the harmful nature of the pesticide being used on Dole farms, the issue which the filmmakers originally set out to highlight. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a genuinely inspiring tale of the little guy standing up to the big one; and don’t we all wish we could do that sometimes?
Big Boys Gone Bananas!* screens on Wednesday, May 2nd, at 5:30 pm as part of the 2012 Hot Docs Festival. This one of few films with only one public screening, so make sure you get there! Check the festival website for details and tickets.