Living in Fear of the Dole
Big Boys Gone Bananas* is a Swedish documentary film about a Swedish documentary film, and a David Versus Goliath story with no twist ending.
Back in 2009 director Frederik Gertten was scheduled to premiere his latest film at the LA Film Festival. Called simply Bananas, it dealt with alleged abuses suffered by Nicaraguan workers who worked for the Dole Food Company, an international corporation and the world’s biggest producer of fruit.
Fred thought he was onto a winner as a court case had nailed the Dole Company for the above mentioned abuses, except that by the time he had the film ready for market, another court hearing had reversed the decision.
A bummer for Fred
The Dole Company itself was, and still is, sitting on a time bomb of pending litigation from many others of its previous workers who claimed they had suffered severe health issues, including sterility, caused by Dole’s use of a banned pesticide.
Smelling blood, Dole went on the attack. If they could demonstrate that the film was clearly fraudulent then they could both deflect media attention from their business practices and influence the potential outcome of any further court actions.
They used highly-priced lawyers and corporate dirty tricks to throw the works at Fred and his small Scandinavian production company. All of this without seeing a single frame of the film in question. Unsurprisingly the LA festival organisers completely bottled it, first withdrawing the film from competition, then by showing it at a location far from the main venue, and finally by bowing to demands from Dole that a disclaimer statement must be read out before the screening.
Fred was completely humiliated. And worse was to come: the craven American media then proceeded to endorse the Dole Company’s line on the matter by simply peddling the fruit company’s press releases as fact. The director scuttled back home to Scandinavia with his tail between his legs.
The rest of the film deals with Fred’s doggedly phlegmatic attempt to clear his name, while gathering an unlikely bunch of supporters including a charmingly scruffy nerd/blogger, a burger chain and the entire Swedish Parliament.
If I had a heart, it would have been warmed.
Unfortunately his struggle lacked dramatic interest after the first 20 minutes and, as is often the case with these things, my mind turned to the film I would rather have been watching. Instead of Fred’s reasonable pursuit of the truth I wanted to see him shadow the high profile CEO of the Dole Company with long lenses, or employ some teenage computer whizz to hack into their websites. Maybe even hire Dolph Lundgren to commit a daring raid on their headquarters in the dead of night.
For reasons I will outline below I wanted vengeance served raw.
When I woke from this violent reverie the movie was over and Fred himself was there in person, deep in conversation with some other concerned individuals about the implications for free speech raised by the film. I slipped out of the Prince Charles cinema quickly, overwhelmed by the stench of rising smugness.
Perhaps I should have more empathy with Fred. After all I myself suffered a similar fate when my movie Wishbaby lost a great deal of potential revenue after being threatened with litigation back in 2006. I also saw distributors and retailers (except for good old HMV) slink away at the first opportunity without a shred of evidence being produced.
Do I sound bitter?
Damn right I do.
Good luck to Fred with his new film about a film, after all he and his team suffered threats to their livelihood and survived to tell the cinematic tale. Of course the Dole Company is still in business and I am sure that their lawyers will be monitoring the progress of Big Boys Gone Bananas with interest.
Thursday 20 September
Birmingham – Birmingham Library Theatre – Popup Cinema Screening