Grocery

Bananas!*

Bananas

Year: 2009

Type: Documentary film (87 minutes) and website

Director: Fredrik Gertten 

Production company: WG Film AG, Sweden (website).

Availability: on DVD (£8.99 on amazon.co.uk, £12.99 from UK distributor dogwoof, new from $9.95, used from $5.64 on amazon.com), online trailer and clips (on YouTube), online trailer and interviews (on vimeo).

Page reference: Cook, I. (2011) Bananas!* followthethings.com (www.followthethings.com/bananas.shtml last accessed <insert date here>)

Trailer

 

Descriptions

BANANAS!* is a suspenseful, layer-peeling, court room drama chronicle contextualized within the global politics of food and First vs. Third world dynamics (Source: Anon 2011a).

BANANAS!* tells the story of how 12 banana plantation workers from Nicaragua sue the Dole company, one of the biggest food corporations in the world. Dole is accused of knowingly using a banned pesticide in the 70’s that may be linked to severe health problems and infertility among workers (Source: Säfström in Gertton & Säfström 2009 link).

At first glance, 'Bananas!*' seems like just the latest in a long line of agit-prop docs warning consumers off their favourite foodstuffs. Opening scenes of desolate Nicaraguan villages and downtrodden workers only reinforce this impression. Then we're introduced to Juan J Dominguez, a sparkly-toothed LA legal eagle who drives a Ferrari, has a bust of Caesar on his desk and speaks passionately of his feelings towards 'the little guy', and matters become more unpredictable (Source: Huddleston 2010 link).

Bananas!* is a compelling documentary charting the David and Goliath battle between a dozen Nicaraguan plantation workers and the Dole food corporation, accused of using a deadly banned pesticide linked to generations of sterilised workers. It's a real-life Erin Brockovich (Source: Fitzherbert 2010).

Bananas!* tells the story of a trial that took place in Los Angeles in 2007. Twelve Nicaraguan banana workers sued Dole for exposing them to a pesticide, DBCP, known to be causing male sterility. Six of them were awarded several million dollars in damages by a jury, whilst the other six were given nothing. The main figure of the film is Juan ‘Accidentes’ Dominguez, a flamboyant Cuban-American lawyer representing the workers (Source: Lindvall 2011 link).

The crux of story is Standard Fruit Company’s (later Dole) use of a pesticide dipromochloropropane (DBCP) known by its brand names, Nemagon and Fumazone. In 1977 Dow Chemical discovered that some of their California employees who had handled DBCP were sterile. Within months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had suspended most uses of the chemical. Dow wrote to Standard Fruit Company that they were ceasing DBCP production and that Dole should return unused inventory. Dole wrote back that if Dow did not continue delivering the pesticide it was in breach of contract. Dow agreed to continue delivering DBPC only after Dole’s lawyers promised to indemnify Dow for any future liabilities stemming from its use. Dole complied with this request and stopped using DBCP only after it had depleted its last canister. Flash forward to the new century. Juan Jose Dominguez, a Los Angeles based personal injury lawyer, sees a news report on CNN about the widespread use of the pesticide in the 60s and 70s and its link to illness and sterility.  In 2004 he makes an exploratory trip to the banana growing Chinandega province of Nicaragua and finds many aging, family-less men saying they were sickened by exposure. He registers 10,000 workers who claim to be afflicted and launches a lengthy lawsuit against Dole representing 12 allegedly sterile plaintiffs. This is no open and shut case though. Dole spares no expense to hire a top notch defense attorney who raises considerable doubts as to whether the plaintiffs were ever fertile or even if they truly became sterile. His tactics include bringing up issues of proximity and exposure, impotence, gender identify, alcoholism, paternity, and contradictory testimony. He succeeds in muddying the issue and raising an element of doubt (Source: Rabiner 2011 link).

BANANAS!* is filled with arresting scenes, and the in court testimony of current Dole CEO David DeLorenzo is among its most shocking. He admits under oath that his company knew the chemical was unsafe, but continued to use it with only scant concern for the men, women, and children dwelling on the plantations that produced the world’s most popular and profitable fruit crop. DeLorenzo’s attestations contain not just corporate history, but personal. He managed the banana company’s operations in Nicaragua during the Nemagon era. He effectively signed off on the chemical’s use (Source: Koeppel 2011 link).

Juan 'Accidentes' Dominguez is on his biggest case ever. On behalf of twelve Nicaraguan banana workers he is tackling Dole Food in a ground-breaking legal battle for their use of a banned pesticide that was known by the company to cause sterility. Can he beat the giant, or will the corporation get away with it? In the suspenseful documentary BANANAS!*, filmmaker Fredrik Gertten sheds new light on the global politics of food. One third of the production price of the average banana is used simply to cover the cost of pesticides. All over the world, banana plantation workers are suffering and dying from the effects of these pesticides. Juan Dominguez, a million-dollar personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles, is on his biggest case ever representing over 10,000 Nicaraguan banana workers claiming to be afflicted by a pesticide known as Nemagon. Dole Food and Dow Chemicals are on trial. Another banana worker is being buried in a small northern town in Nicaragua. For his whole life, Alberto Rosales used his machete to remove weeds from below the banana plants. His son says his last years were filled with pain, a body that was itching all night - and in the end his kidneys stopped working. Inside the church, filled with friends and family, Father Bayardo begins his sermon. It’s not about Alberto Rosales after awhile. It’s about pesticides. Father Bayardo is accusing landowners and US transnationals of immoral practices which he says cause the death and suffering of many members of his community. The whole region of Chinandega is an ecological disaster zone. The pesticide spray has left its mark everywhere. The soil, the water, the animals, the food of the people are all affected. The level of pesticides in breastmilk is 700 times higher than is acceptable. Some say it will take 200 years for the ground to heal itself enough to produce natural crops again. One of the pesticides, a DBCP-based compound called Nemagon, was banned in the USA in 1977 for causing male sterility. Standard Fruit - now Dole - continued to use the pesticide in its plantations outside the USA up to 1982. Enter Juan Dominguez. Dominguez, a personal injury lawyer and a member of the “Million Dollar Club” of attorneys in Southern California, is making history. As the legal representative of over 10,000 Nicaraguan banana workers, he is the first attorney ever to force American corporations to take responsibility for actions they have done outside US borders. This case has been followed by experts and companies all over the world.  If Dominguez is successful, it could rock the economic foundations of Dole and [the Nemagon manufacturer] Dow, and would open the US courts to other global victims of US-based multinationals.  It would represent a new day in international justice, and there are further cases of a similar nature coming up next in many jurisdictions (Source: Anon 2009 link).

Dominguez, well known within the Latino communities of Los Angeles on account of all the billboards displaying his face, is a dynamic Cuban with a taste for flash cars and a talent for denouncing multinational opponents. Peasants vs corporations: that's how he frames his critique. "Predatory capitalism": that's what he says Dole is guilty of. As this courtroom drama proceeds, Dole brings in big-shot lawyers who accuse workers of lying about their health. The denouement, far from the David slaying-Goliath narrative that you might expect to be celebrated, is a messy affair. Dole filed - and later dropped - a defamation lawsuit against Gertten and turned his film into something of a cause célèbre in activist circles (Source: Sandhu 2010 link).

BANANAS!* wears its tagline proudly on its sleeve, “The film Dole Food Co. doesn't want you to see.”  It’s more than a simple marketing ploy; it’s the truth. (Source: Rabiner 2011 link).

Inspiration / Technique / Process / Methodology

Hopefully my audience will get inspired and read more. Ask more questions about the fruit in their own corner shop (Source: Gertten in Anon 2010d link).

The bananas we’ve been eating all these years look to have caused horrendous suffering for these people. To me it is very unsettling to find that out now. Who knows what chemicals are used on bananas today? Who knows if any consequences will be felt in 30 years? I want to highlight the moral dilemma - that the food we eat can have a high price tag for others. ... I’m interested in telling the story of a nation through one single person in the street. That is more rewarding than meeting kings and presidents. For me, one of the greatest tasks of the political documentary is to show 'the others'. To portray them as fellow human beings we can respect, and not just as victims. ... We looked up his (Dominguez) web page and it was almost too good to be true. We couldn’t have written a better character ourselves. Duane Miller, Juan’s partner in this venture, is his exact opposite. Miller may be a more talented trial lawyer and specializes in court cases dealing with toxins and chemical pollution of the environment, but his reluctance to appear in the film is obvious. He wanted to focus completely on the case. That is a very reasonable position, however it does not translate into a great film. ... My guideline is that the subjects should be able to recognize themselves. Dole’s defense attorney Rick McKnight for instance is in many ways the bad guy in the film, but he is also portrayed as proud, sharp and alert. I don’t think he would object to that image of him. ... US documentaries often begin with a really long cut. In the editing room they initially tend to have a version running several hours, and then they gradually trim it down to an acceptable length. Our method is instead to isolate potential scenes. First, situations with Juan through the entire narrative and next the Nicaraguan family, then Duane. We create several parallel threads that we spend two to three months working on, then we weave these together. This leaves us with an initial running time quite close to the final goal. ... Sometimes you feel instinctively that a shot will end up in the final cut. I sat in the courtroom when Rick McKnight held his final argument. I had been in Nicaragua, I had met the affected workers and I was intensely provoked by his mocking banter. I wanted my audience to feel the same thing. ... I eat less bananas now, but I consciously try not to quit entirely but instead choose Fair trade products. I don’t believe in being 100% orthodox. That goes for my private life as well as my films. I don’t want to preach morality and BANANAS!* shouldn’t leave the audience feeling guilty and depressed. Change does not come from despair, but from seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, that our actions actually matter (Source: Gertten in Gertton & Säfström 2009 link).

What’s hidden under that pretty, yellow skin? What stories can be found? Rebeca Méndez is the designer of the visual identity for BANANAS!*, and in particular responsible for the asterisk behind the title. 'The original movie title BANANAS! had a two-fold edge; it means that bananas are the subject matter of the film, and the exclamation mark makes it into a widely known catch phrase used to exclaim indignity and disbelief about an absurd situation, as in: ‘This mess is so bananas!’ We wanted to add a third dimension of awareness to the title that tells you there is more to find out about bananas. There is a footnote to its jolly image, this information that has been omitted, that once revealed will make you think twice about the food that we consume. The asterisk is our engine to activate a movement, and, in hindsight, it is perhaps also our saving grace. With the addition of an asterisk to the title we acquire this built-in force to expose the rotten state of affairs behind the delicious bananas. ... When I left advertising I was interested in applying [the] lessons of mass market messaging to non-profit or cultural organizations, where the motive is not monetary profit, but spreading a social awareness. ... Because non-profit agencies and many cultural institutions do not have big budgets to spend on marketing and advertising, you have to find this force within, so it will propel itself and do the work for you (Source: Anon 2009d link). 

With her husband Adam Eeuwens, ... Méndez developed the core brand identity for BANANAS!*, designing the logotype, its color palette, initial campaign ideas, and a set of brand guidelines. Then she handed the package to her Fall 2008 Visual Communication class of senior students at UCLA, and gave them the assignment to create a comprehensive communication strategy and design across all media for BANANAS!* 'The first step in the creative process is to immerse yourself in research on the subject matter, and the Internet holds a wealth of material, from old commercials with singing bananas on You Tube to Wikipedia facts on the origin of the term 'banana republic,' to Dole’s own home page. You explore any lead to ignite the creative spark; to turn strategy into story. For a class course of ten weeks, the students did well, and a lot of their ideas had influence and even a few of their designs made it to the final cut. The BANANAS!* Twitter ticker on the front page on the website picks up on everyone using the word ‘banana,’ ‘pesticides’ and ‘Nicaragua’ in their twitter messages, and is an idea conceived and coded by one the students. And the bananas photos for the poster were made by a student who bought them fresh and photographed the rotting process for weeks until they were completely black and fluid. A lot of the student work followed the angle of the implications of pesticide use on the health of the consumers. One factoid we got from the Swedes was about chimpanzees in the zoo in Copenhagen who eat organic bananas skin and all, while they peel the bananas treated with pesticides. That fact alone changed awareness and a couple of habits in the class. It was interesting to notice that the students have a very keen understanding that everything in the world is connected, and immediately sense that what pesticide goes around at one point must come around. It is obscene to them that personal profit could be more important than the public good' (Source: Anon 2009d link).

This films, Bananas, has entire secuences of my film Bananeras - done in 1984 to show the conditions of the workers - taken without my knowle or moral rigth, and they only give a small and unnoticable credit at the end. You can see my film in youtube (Source: Deshon 2011 link).

Dear Ramiro Lacayo. Your film has played an important role in the history of this film. And in the court case as it was used as evidence in Los Angeles Superior Court. We have cleared the rights and payed for them. Frank Pineda who shot your film has also been working with mine. So once again thank you, hope to meet you in person next time I come to Nicaragua (Source: Gertten 2011 link).

The Nicaraguan worker’s situation is by no means an isolated problem. During production of BANANAS!*, Gertten was contacted by several other Dole workers with similar stories, in regions as far apart as the Ivory Coast and the Philippines (Source: Säfström in Gertton & Säfström 2009 link).

Discussion / Responses

This bargain-basement documentary about a class action lawsuit that pits the Third World against the First has noble intentions. The case, brought on behalf of 12 Nicaraguan plantation workers, charges the food corporation Dole with the use of a deadly pesticide that was banned outright in the US after it was linked to health problems. The crusading LA attorney Juan J. Dominguez orchestrates the case. It's a sloppily put together film that lacks a central thesis. It seems that Dominguez is the good guy, but shots of him ambulance chasing, then later tooling around in his red Ferrari, seem to undermine this. A final revelation, that Dole accused the attorney of fraud, is thrown away (Source: Muir et al 2010).

The film's ostensible villain - and there can be little question that Gertten wants aud[ience]s to question multinational corporations' treatment of their workers abroad, no matter what the field - is Dole chief operating officer David DeLorenzo, who appears only as a witness in the trial. But even without interviews featuring Dole's side of the story, 'Bananas!*' is quite balanced, airing the opening and closing arguments of both sides. The problem with the film is less in the accusations of fraud that have since surfaced against Dominguez (the seeds are there in the docu, which shows defense attorney Rick McKnight refuting a fair number of bogus claims in court) than in the intensely legal-focused nature of Gertten's approach. We see Dominguez coaching the plaintiffs on how to appear sympathetic to a jury, but never feel the same connection with the Nicaraguan workers depicted in the film, beyond the rustic guitar music provided in solidarity with their cause (Source: Debruge 2009 link).

Though workers' rights violations persist around the world, the infraction in question feels dated. The DBCP use itself dates back more than three decades, and the only footage of the conditions described hails from an old movie ("Bananeras," directed by Yamiro Lacago), which better represents the kind of workplace expose Bananas!* purports to be. Instead, the docu[mentary] functions primarily as a courtroom drama, omitting key details aud[ience]s need to follow the complex case, including information on when Dole finally switched to DBCP-free pesticides. The subject of legal proceedings, this documentary aims to expose the alleged ruthless negligence of an American food giant in its use of a pesticide on a Nicaraguan banana plantation, which might have left many workers sterile. At its heart is Juan 'Accidentes' Dominguez, an LA-based ambulance-chasing lawyer who sees it as a possible landmark class action (and himself as a conquering hero). The narrative, then, is all in place: Uncle Sam will be given a black eye. But the best-laid plans of left-wing documentary-makers often go awry. You leave the director Fredrik Gertten's film asking more questions than when you went in (Source: Whittle 2010 link).

['Bananas!*] is [not] particularly innovative in its presentation of the facts or in profiling the main protagonists. Indeed, [it does not] succeed ... in making its points without raising several potentially discreditory counter-arguments. Yet, ... Fredrik Gertten's Bananas!* ... provide[s] provocative insights into the contempt with which too many of the planet's marginalised and dispossessed people are treated by the power-broking few. It's impossible to watch Bananas!* without its content being tainted by the fact that its flamboyant hero was accused in August 2009 of participating in a broad conspiracy built on phoney claims. Born in Cuba, but now based in Los Angeles, Juan Jose Dominguez made his name as a personal injury lawyer. But, on seeing a 2002 CNN report on the use of discontinued pesticides on Nicaragua's banana plantations, he launched a crusade to assist workers whose health had seemingly been damaged because of what he deemed to be a wilful act of corporate indifference. Swede Fredrik Gertten makes no attempt to disguise the fact that the Ferrari-driving, cigar-smoking Dominguez hopes to profit from his bid to sue the Dole Food company, which persisted in using DBCP (aka Nemagon or Fumazone) in Nicaragua long after its manufacturer, Dow Chemical, had ceased production and requested written assurances that it would not be dragged into any subsequent litigation. But Gertten also balances Dominguez's more messianic tendencies with the rigorous professionalism of partner Duane Miller, who soberly devotes himself to preparing a watertight accusation of causing sterility while Dominguez takes the plaudits from gatherings of expectant plantation workers in Chinandega. However, Miller's jousts with Dole bigwig David DeLorenzo prove to have only a pyrrhic impact, as defence attorney Rick McKnight systematically exposes inconsistencies in the testimony of several of the victims that Dominguez's firm had identified and coached for their day in court. Ultimately, after 25 days of deliberation, the jury partially found in Miller's favour. But, as the verdict in Tellez vs Dole is now under fresh scrutiny, it seems a little disingenuous to be releasing this film, as the story it purports to tell can no longer be taken at face value. There seems little doubt that the Standard Fruit Company chose to ignore industrial advice back in the 1970s, but it appears it will be much harder to prove conclusively the claims of the San Pablo and Candelaria workforces that DBCP was solely responsible for the sterility, cancer, miscarriages and birth defects that have subsequently afflicted them (Source: Parky at the pictures 2010 link).

After the film was produced, but before it was released, the judge in the case ruled that the supposedly crusading lawyer may have participated in a fraud in which at least some of the workers weren't sterile at all and some hadn't even worked on the plantation. ... Gertten released the film anyway, and Dole sued. Bad move on both their parts. Gertten should have pulled his film or repurposed it. Dole shouldn't have made itself look petty by suing. This is a free-speech issue. Gertten's film should be shown. He should be allowed to state his case. And Dole should affirmatively get its story out. It should state why it thinks Gertten is full of it and why it believes his film is biased. People aren't stupid. They can hear both sides and decide for themselves. That is best done outside a courtroom and in the free and open marketplace of ideas (Source: Crumpley 2009b link).

Talking to Swedish journalists at a screening of the film I recently attended, Gertten remarked that one of the most frightening things of all this was experiencing the fear of many American journalists he had talked to - a fear he attributed to the lack of legally protected job security. Often these journalists had basically agreed with the filmmakers’ side of the story privately but still gone on to publish articles accepting the Dole point of view. Ultimately this case once more demonstrates that genuine freedom of speech, and thereby democracy, is incompatible with today’s huge concentration of wealth within anti-democratic organisations such as multinational corporations. (Source: Lindvall 2011 link).

Dole spent considerable time, money, and energy trying to silence this Swedish documentary about a landmark lawsuit against the company.  Ultimately these efforts, viewed by many as an attack on free speech, proved a public relations disaster and Dole ceased trying to muzzle the film. Like many journalists who have watched the film and were puzzled by Dole’s antagonism, I too feel they overreacted. This film, while provocative, does a commendable job of representing the facts and events in a way that provides ample voice to both sides. Above all, BANANAS!* will appeal to those who love a good court room drama (Source: Rabiner 2011 link).

Outcomes / Impacts

Chevron and Dole Food Co. argue that some of today's documentarians, who like Michael Moore increasingly use their cameras more for dogmatic activism than neutral reporting, are mouthpieces for plaintiffs' lawyers, and should not necessarily enjoy all of the legal protections afforded most journalists against turning over unused material such as notes and outtakes. ... Berlinger, several other filmmakers ..., the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America and numerous media companies argue that the lawsuit will have a chilling effect on documentary filmmaking beyond this project. They note that Dole, which sued documentary director Fredrik Gertten for defamation, is also backing Chevron in its lawsuit [against Joe Berlinger’s 2009 documentary ‘Crude’, see our ‘Crude’ page here]. 'The risk here is if all of [the outtakes] can be ordered produced … other outtakes far too routinely will be made available in the future,' Abrams said. Consequently, people 'may well be discouraged to talk to filmmakers,' he added. Louie Psihoyos, director of the Academy Award-winning documentary 'The Cove,' about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan, said the legal assault comes as nonfiction films are showing increased impact. "The documentary medium has evolved into the most powerful cultural force we have for change and I think the subjects are responding to that," he said. Psihoyos signed a letter in support of Berlinger. ... Last year, Dole sued Swedish filmmaker Gertten, arguing that his 2009 documentary film 'Bananas!*,' a look at litigation involving the produce company's alleged misuse of a pesticide in Nicaragua, 'promotes as fact a false story' and ignored a judgment in the case against Dole that was dismissed as fraudulent. Like 'Crude,' Gertten's film followed a plaintiffs' lawyer - in this case, the prolific bus advertiser Juan Dominguez - who allowed Gertten to shadow him. Dole withdrew the suit in October, but is still displeased with how the food giant was treated in the film. 'Both 'Bananas!*' and 'Crude' are part of the growing trend of plaintiffs' lawyers using a supposedly factual documentary film in a public campaign seeking to discredit the targeted defendants,' Dole said in its friend-of-the-court brief. 'Documentary filmmaking is still the last bastion for truth telling,' Gertten said. 'It's very sad that Dole has now shown their support for Chevron's attack on Joe Berlinger.' Chevron lawyer Mastro, whose firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher was suspended from the 1st Amendment-promoting Media Law Resource Center for its representation of Dole in the 'Bananas!*' case, said neither he nor his firm was out to silence journalists and nonfiction filmmakers. 'This is not a case about the 1st Amendment,' Mastro said. 'It's about an American company urgently needing this evidence to defend itself' (Source: Horn 2010 link).

When international food company Dole brought a lawsuit against a small-budget documentary featuring Nicaraguan banana plantation workers who alleged they had been left infertile by a banned pesticide, it appeared as if the film-maker would be beaten. But Bananas*!, which is billed as a court-case thriller in the same vein as Erin Brockovich, became a sensation around the world. It gained so much support, from the global film industry, campaigning journalists and the Swedish parliament, that Dole withdrew its case against the film's Swedish director, Fredrik Gertten. Now the film, which had its first UK screening at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in central London last night and will run until 25 April, is to be followed by another documentary, relaying Mr Gertten's hair-raising experiences and his defence of freedom of speech. The film tells the story of 12 workers at a Nicaraguan banana plantation in the 1970s who brought a lawsuit against Dole, alleging that working on the firm's plantation had caused them to become infertile because of the use of banned pesticide DBCP. Dole filed a lawsuit against the film-maker but it was withdrawn in mid-October, shortly after a petition was started by Swedish politicians. The company's efforts to silence Gertten first began when the film was selected to take part in the Los Angeles Film Festival in May last year. Dole sent out warning letters both to film-makers and sponsors of the film festival who subsequently withdrew the documentary from the competition, although it was still screened - to a full house. It was shown again, some months later, in a meeting room in the Swedish parliament. Afterwards, Swedish MPs Mats Johansson and Luciano Astudillo launched a cross-party petition, urging Dole to withdraw its lawsuit. On the same day, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents more than 600,000 journalists in 123 countries, condemned the lawsuit, and it was withdrawn soon afterwards. Since then, Mr Gertten has been focusing on getting the film shown around the world. It was met by acclaim when it was screened at the Berlin Film Festival this year, and now it has reached London. Yesterday, the director said: 'It is a huge victory to screen at the ICA since there was a moment when we didn't know if the film ever would be seen. Dole was never my target. I wanted to make a film on the big back-story of 100 years of banana shipping from the South to the North. I had worked in Nicaragua for 35 years and I knew all about the banana marches.' A statement from Dole said: 'Dole has withdrawn its lawsuit against the film-makers and the film-makers have withdrawn their counterclaim. Dole will defend its case but cannot comment further on an ongoing legal process.' Of the film's content, and release, Dole stated: 'The movie depicts a trial against Dole and other American companies, which took place in 2007 in Los Angeles. The trial regards the use in the 1970s of a pesticide called DBCP. Dole stopped all use of DBCP on all Dole-owned or Dole-contracted farms 30 years ago.' Michael Carter, Dole's executive vice-president and general counsel, was last October quoted as saying: 'While the film-makers continue to show a film that is fundamentally flawed and contains many false statements, we look forward to an open discussion with the film-makers regarding the content of the film' (Source: Akbar 2010 link).

Dole Food Co. filed a defamation lawsuit on Wednesday against a Swedish filmmaker it accuses of knowingly including 'patent falsehoods' in a documentary about Nicaraguan banana workers who sued Dole for allegedly exposing them to pesticides on its Nicaraguan plantations. Dole said it repeatedly 'implored' director Fredrik Gertten and producer Margarete Jangard to revise the film 'Bananas!*' to show the bananeros' lawsuits against Dole were thrown out in April by a Los Angeles judge who found a 'pervasive conspiracy' to defraud U.S. courts by plaintiffs attorneys and Nicaraguan judges. Gertten 'refused to make any meaningful changes to the film and persisted in publicly screening it and touting its accuracy in the face of court rulings that the story was false ...,' said the suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. 'To screen, promote, and profit from this film, despite the fact that its entire premise has been (judged) a fraud on Dole and California's courts, is the epitome of reckless and irresponsible conduct.' An attorney representing Gertten could not immediately be reached for comment. In a July 1 letter posted on a website promoting the film, Gertten described Dole's demands as 'blatant intimidation' and said the company, 'attacked the film without seeing it.' The film chronicles a 'David versus Goliath' struggle by U.S. plaintiffs attorney Juan Dominguez to bring what he says in the film are the first ever claims by third-world farm workers in U.S. courts. 'I do not like when other people are exploited ... I never like the big guy picking (on) the little guy,' Dominguez says in the trailer. The film was first screened in June, over Dole's objections, at the Los Angeles Film Festival. 'Bananas!*' concludes with Dominguez winning a $2.5 million punitive damages verdict on behalf of five Nicaraguan plaintiffs, but leaves out what happened next. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney threw out that award and some claims, cut down other damages awarded by a jury, then threw out two of Dominguez's pending cases. Chaney found that medical evidence and some plaintiffs' proof of employment had been forged. She ruled that Dominguez and others had run a large-scale operation to recruit men who had never worked on Dole plantations to act as plaintiffs and had coached them in how to testify. The judge referred Dominguez and other attorneys to states' bar associations and to prosecutorial agencies. Film Independent officials warned the audience before a June 20 screening that, 'there seems to be a little question that the version of reality that the film portrays does not match the reality that emerged in the courtroom.' But FIND officials said they decided to screen the film, despite the threat of litigation from Dole as, 'a case study of what makes (and doesn't make) a responsible documentary' (Source: Keating 2009a link).

Wednesday's lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction barring Fredrik Gertten from showing the film in public again. It accuses him of 'actual malice' for ignoring a court ruling that the case on which the film was based had been part of a massive extortion plot against Dole by attorney Juan J. Dominguez, the star of the film. 'Bananas!' documents the alleged plight of Nicaraguan workers who say they were made sterile by a pesticide used at Dole banana plantations in the 1970s. The documentary was completed before the fraud was uncovered showing that the men were recruited by Dominguez to lie (Source: Deutsch 2009b link).

...has it escaped anyone’s attention that the moviegoing public, particularly those attending documentaries, have the ability to discern fact from fiction and dig a little deeper if questions arise on a subject? Do not underestimate the public. They do realize that time and life are static, not rigid, evolving second by second, creating new chapters for further exploration and discovery and perhaps, a second film. To “redo” every book, recording or film and junk the existing just because of ongoing change, would prevent anything from ever being completed (Source: Elias 2009 link).

Dole Foods sued Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten and his film company for defamation on Wednesday, alleging he insisted on showing his documentary, 'Bananas!' at the Los Angeles Film Festival after learning it was based on a fraud. 'To screen, promote, and profit from this film, despite the fact that its entire premise has been adjudicated a fraud ... is the epitome of reckless and irresponsible conduct,' Dole attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. wrote in the suit. 'It cannot possibly be justified or defended. It must stop.' Under threat of lawsuits by Dole, 'Bananas!' ... was shown twice last month with a lengthy written disclaimer by Los Angeles Film Festival organizers who said it did not present a fair and accurate account but was worth showing as "a case study" of what happens when a story changes after a documentary is completed (Source: Gensler 2009).

Attorney Richard Lee, who represents defendant WG Film AB, said he and his client [Gertten] found the complaint 'to be without merit' and an attempt at prior restraint. 'Dole is attempting to keep a part of the long story of misuse of pesticides by multinational corporations from being told,' Lee said. 'We will respond appropriately in court' (Source: Keating 2009b).

On July 9, Dole Food Co. filed suit in Los Angeles claiming 'Bananas!' is defamatory and false toward the corporation. Richard J. Lee, attorney for the filmmakers, says the suit is without merit and Dole is 'attempting to silence the messenger of a message it dislikes.' "Bananas!" features Juan Dominquez, attorney who journeyed to Nicaragua to enlist his banana plantation worker clients in a suit against Dole. The complex court case is central to the film. Dole's efforts to block the film began at the recent Los Angeles Film Festival, when the company angled to prevent festival screenings and subsequently subpoenaed fest organizer Film Independent. In response, the fest moved the film out of competition and showcased it at a special screening where festgoers were advised that questions had been raised about the film's credibility. The doc was screened as a case study, says the fest, 'to illuminate a timely exploration of what makes (and doesn't make) a responsible documentary.' While 'Bananas!' was already sold to European TV, further U.S. fest screenings and TV berths are under legal review because of the defamation lawsuit. Gertten notes that Dole is going after 'some small Swedes' and worries that the incident might dampen film festival support of docs. 'If this is the future for documentary film' - that big companies learn it works to send bullying letters - 'it is not good for documentary filmmakers or film festivals,' says the helmer (Source: Anon 2009c).

Dole Foods is withdrawing a defamation lawsuit against a Swedish filmmaker after complaints in Sweden that it was trying to limit free speech, the company said Thursday. Dole had sued filmmaker Fredrik Gertten for showing the documentary 'Bananas!' despite a court ruling that the case on which the film was based had been part of a massive extortion plot against the company. The documentary shows the alleged plight of Nicaraguan workers who say they were made sterile by a pesticide used at Dole banana plantations in the 1970s. Dole's lawsuit sparked protests in Sweden, where critics said the food company was trying to interfere with the freedom of speech. In a statement, Dole said it decided to withdraw the lawsuit 'in light of the free speech concerns being expressed in Sweden, although it continues to believe in the merits of its case.' ... It has been show at cinemas in Sweden since Oct. 9. Gertten told reporters in Stockholm he was very happy about Dole's decision and hoped the film can now continue to be screened in the U.S. and Canada. 'We have cut a very balanced film, we haven't done a propaganda story,' he said. 'Really we did everything right.' He was supported by two Swedish lawmakers and the Swedish minister for culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth who said Thursday that Dole made a 'wise' decision in withdrawing the lawsuit. Earlier this week Swedish food chain ICA - a Dole customer - held a meeting with the company saying it felt the filmmaker had the right to express his side of the story. 'We met their European division and ... put forward our view on the matter,' ICA's fruit and vegetables chief Lars Astrom told The Associated Press. 'We said we thought they should withdraw the lawsuit and asked them to get back to us, and now they have done that' (Source: Anon 2009e link).

Bart here, back in Canada after a great experience at FICA Environmental Film Festival in Goiás, Brazil - where we won the Audience Award for favourite film. ... I guess I shouldn’t have worried - from the 28 films in official competition (all lengths and genres, including Oscar®-winner The Cove), the audience chose us as best film. Very flattering, and a great burst of energy for our production team after dealing with lawsuits, misinformed US media articles and a halted release strategy. Most importantly, it keeps the spotlight on the conditions of the workers in Chinandega. The win is already reported in the Nicaraguan press (Source: Simpson 2010 link).

Bart Simpson-- the Victoria-born filmmaker, not the yellow fellow from Fox TV - is all smiles, and no wonder. Bananas!, the documentary he co-produced for Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten, just won the Audience Favourite Award at the FICA Environmental Film Festival in Brazil . ... This award has special significance, the producer said, since it was received in Brazil, where bananas are also grown and where audiences can identify with the cultural similarities. 'Getting a statement like this from the heartland of the largest country in Latin America is proof the film is doing its job,' said Simpson, who has another reason to be elated. The agricultural giant dropped its defamation suit against the filmmakers (Source: Reid 2010).

Putting an end to years-long litigation, a judge Thursday threw out a multimillion-dollar jury verdict awarded in 2007 to six Nicaraguan men claiming they were sterilized by a pesticide while working on American-run banana farms (Source: Kim 2010 link).

In other countries, BANANAS!* was seen. Outrage over Dole’s actions mounted; supermarket boycotts were instituted, first in Sweden, and then spreading to other European nations. In 2010, a year after the company filed the legal action, the suit was dismissed. The judge in the case determined that Dole’s case was frivolous and constituted harassment against Gertten. The banana company was forced to pay Gertten’s legal fees of nearly $200,000. A win for the little guy – and for free speech? Yes, but despite the legal defeat, Dole’s strategy kept BANANAS!* away from viewers for many months. It damaged the credibility of the film, since reports of the suit were far more prominent than accounts of the suit’s collapse. Meanwhile, as the banana company likely hoped, interest in what the film chronicled might have gone stale. That these things didn’t happen isn’t a matter of luck. BANANAS!* is that powerful. That’s because the genuine story of the film - the brutal treatment banana workers and their families were subjected to - is real and riveting. By showing how the fight for justice continues today - not just in courtrooms, but in the bananalands of Central America where little has changed - the film shows an ultimate truth and an ultimate victory (Source: Koeppel 2011 link).

A judge has ordered Dole Food Co. to pay nearly $200,000 to a Swedish filmmaker who battled the company in a free speech case involving a documentary about claims that Dole harmed workers at Nicaraguan banana plantations. Dole had sued Fredrik Gertten for showing the documentary "Bananas" despite a court ruling that the case on which the film was based had been part of a massive extortion plot against the company. Dole sued for defamation. But Superior Court Judge Ralph W. Dau found in a ruling issued Nov. 17 that the U.S. food giant was trying to stifle Gertten's right to free speech and ordered the company to pay his legal fees and costs. ... Gertten said in a statement that "corporations such as Dole must respect freedom of speech and the freedom of press." While conglomerates have unlimited resources, he said, independent filmmakers "have very limited means to defend ourselves." He said he hoped "Bananas" would now find a wider audience and encourage discussion of human rights for farm workers (Source: Deutsch 2011).

Last week, a relieved Juan Dominguez provided us with a closing letter from The State Bar Of California confirming his innocence in the banana fraud case. The letter states that Dominguez is free of all “allegations of professional misconduct”, and that the matter is closed. Thus, the State Bar has determined that Dole’s allegations against Dominguez of fraudulent activities were without basis. These allegations by Dole were devastating for Dominguez’s work and reputation, and the fact that the State Bar has determined that these allegations lacked merit is more evidence of the injustice not only brought upon Dominguez, but also to the thousands of affected banana workers (Source: Anon 2011b link).

Peter Yager, managing director of Vienna-based sales agent Autlook Filmsales, said his recent theatrical release of the Swedish doc "Bananas!" by Fredrik Gertten was a fluke. Yager said he envisioned a strong festival run and broadcast sales for the film about Nicaraguan banana laborers, and then a go on VOD. That is, until food giant Dole filed a lawsuit against the makers of "'Bananas!' 'They (Dole) were stupid enough to take the case up, which gave our film much-needed publicity,' Yager recalls, and in turn opened up the potential for a theatrical release after it bowed at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June 2009 over Dole's objections. Theatrical distributors became immediately interested in "'Bananas!,' but deals weren't signed ... until a legal cloud over the film had lifted (Source: Vlessing 2010 link).

Ironically, Dole's public reaction has increased the film's profile. 'Because of this, we've attracted distribution interest in the U.K., and the U.S. is interested in a possible theatrical release,' says [co-producer Bart] Simpson ... The filmmakers have also pre-sold broadcast rights in several markets worldwide - except Canada, where a CBC representative said the network's audiences don't like subtitles. While the controversy rages, the filmmakers have set up a legal defence fund in Sweden and are working on a followup. 'This story has become so multi-layered and we've been hit with so many ridiculous accusations,' says Simpson. 'But this is what documentary filmmaking is about - sticking with something and riding it out to the end. The best defence is the truth' (Source: Reid 2009).

With a lawsuit hanging over it, distribution in the United States became almost impossible (Source: Koeppel 2011 link).

... the controversial documentary Bananas!* finally get[s] its official US premiere, in New York, 8 May, 2011 (Source: Lindvall 2011 link).

The NYC based distributor Oscilloscope, founded by Adam Yauch from The Beastie Boys, has now released BANANAS!* in the US (Source: Anon 2011c link).

The gobsmacking aftermath of the lawsuit and allegations against Dominguez are another movie, surely, but they distract from the plight of those who seemingly found work and slow death in the banana groves. (Source: Errigo 2010)

Big Boys Gone Bananas!* The follow-up to BANANAS!* is the true story about a Swedish filmmaker and a banana corporation. Dirty tricks, lawsuits, manipulation, and the price of free speech. (Anon 2011d link).

 

References / Further Reading

Akbar, A. (2010) Might of the multinational fails to stop campaigning film-maker. The Independent (London) 17 April (www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/might-of-the-multinational-fails-to-stop-campaigning-filmmaker-1947223.html last accessed 9 August 2011)

Anon (2009a) About the film. bananasthemovie.com 5 May (www.bananasthemovie.com/about-the-film last accessed August 9 2011)

Anon (2009b) News of the week. Los Angeles Business Journal 19 October

Anon (2009c) Film Independent Announces Official Film Selections for 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. examiner.com 5 May (www.examiner.com/p 340734~Film_Independent_Announces_Official_Film_Selections_for_2009_Los_Angeles_Film_Festival.html last accessed 9 August 2011)

Anon (2009c) Shooting the messenger: documakers take a stand, feel the heat. Variety 13 July, p.10

Anon (2009d) BANANAS!* - why the asterisk? bananasthemovie.com 3 May (www.bananasthemovie.com/bananas-engine last accessed 10 August 2011)

Anon (2009e) Dole withdraws lawsuit against Swedish filmmaker. CBSnews.com 15 October (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/15/ap/europe/main5385911.shtml last accessed 10 August 2011)

Anon (2009f) Take action. bananasthemovie.com (www.bananasthemovie.com/show/take_action last accessed 9 August 2011)

Anon (2010a) Caught between Rock and a hard place. The Herald (Glasgow) 3 June

Anon (2010b) Five best (films). The Independent (London) 19 April

Anon (2010c) Oscilloscope goes Bananas for Gertten. Screen International 14 February

Anon (2010d) Interview with BANANAS!* Director Fredrik Gertten. cinemapolitica.org 12 November (www.cinemapolitica.org/fr/node/2005 last accessed 10 August 2011)

Anon (2011a) Fredrik Gertten’s BANANAS!* wins inaugural Green Tenacity Award at the 1st San Francisco Green Films Festival (press release). sfgreenfilmfest.org 6 March (http://sfgreenfilmfest.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/SFGFF-Press-Release-2011-Award.pdf last accessed 10 August 2011)

Anon (2011b) Juan Dominguez cleared of any wrongdoing by State Bar. babanasthemovie.com 17 March (www.bananasthemovie.com/juan-dominguez-cleared-of-any-wrongdoing-by-state-bar last accessed 9 August 2011)

Anon (2011c) USA finally goes BANANAS!* bananasthemovie.com 30 May (www.bananasthemovie.com/usa-finally-goes-bananas last accessed 10 August 2011)

Anon (2011d) Big Boys Gone Bananas!* bananasthemovie.com 19 November (http://www.bananasthemovie.com/big-boys-gone-bananas last acessed 15 December 2011)

Carroll, R. (2009) US lawyer faces investigation after battling corporations on workers' behalf. The Guardian 15 July (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/15/central-america-dole-pesticides-lawyer last accessed 10 August 2011)

Crumpley, C. (2009a) Proper way to toy with rival. Los Angeles Business Journal 19 October (http://www.labusinessjournal.com/news/2009/oct/19/proper-way-to-toy-with-rival/ last accessed 10 August 2011)

Crumpley, C. (2009b) Fictional defence on film. Los Angeles Business Journal 29 June (www.labusinessjournal.com/news/2009/jun/29/fictional-defense-on-film/ last accessed 10 August 2011)

Debruge, P (2009) Bananas! Variety 29 June (www.variety.com/review/VE1117940539.html?categoryid=31&cs=1last accessed 10 August 2011)

Deshon, R.L. (2011) Comment on Anon (2011) Austria goes BANANAS!*. bananasthemovie.com 20 January (www.bananasthemovie.com/austria-goes-bananas last accessed 9 August 2011)

Deutsch, L. (2009a) Documentary draws ire of Dole after plot thickens. Sign on San Diego 19 June (http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2009/jun/19/us-dole-banana-workers-061909/?california last accessed 10 August 2011)

Deutsch, L. (2009b) Dole sues `Bananas!' filmmaker, alleges defamation. Seattle Times 9 July (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2009346592_apusdolebananaworkers.html last accessed 10 August 2011)

Deutsch, L. (2011) Calif. judge orders Dole to pay filmmaker $200,000. Associated Press 2 December 

Elias, D.L. (2009) Comment on Hollywood Podcast interview with Fredrik Gertten. bananasthemovie.com 30 June (www.bananasthemovie.com/hollywood-podcast-interview-with-fredrik-gertten last accessed 10 August 2011)

Errigo, A. (2010) Also showing. Daily Mail (London) 18 April

Fitzherbert, (2010) Portrait of a PM inspired by Blair and his delusion; Reviews. The Sunday Express (London) 18 April

Gensler, H. (2009) Tattle. The Philadelphia Daily News 10 July p.38

Gertten, F. (2011) Reply to Deshon’s comment on Anon (2011) Austria goes BANANAS!*. bananasthemovie.com 21 January (www.bananasthemovie.com/austria-goes-bananas last accessed 9 August 2011)

Gertten, F. & Säfström, O. (2009) Interview with director Fredrik Gertten. bananasthemovie.com 5 May (www.bananasthemovie.com/interview-with-director-fredrik-gertten last accessed 10 August 2011)

Horn, J (2010) Chevron and 'Crude's' Joe Berlinger locked in a legal battle. Los Angeles Times 14 July (www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-chevron-documentary-20100714,0,7687443.story last accessed 10 August 2011)

Huddleston, T. (2010) Bananas!* movie review. Time Out (London) 15 April (www.timeout.com/film/reviews/88544/bananas.html last accessed 10 August 2011)

Hyland, A. (2009a) The big slip-up. Los Angeles Business Journal 8 June (www.labusinessjournal.com/news/2009/jun/08/the-big-slip-up/ last accessed 10 August 2011)

Hyland, A. (2009b) Documentary maker files claim in Dole Food fight. Los Angeles Business Journal 12 October (www.labusinessjournal.com/news/2009/oct/12/documentary-maker-files-claim-dole-food-fight/ last accessed 10 August 2011)

Keating, G. (2009a) 'Bananas!*' filmmaker sued. hollywoodreporter.com 8 July (www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3i4922fa0cb13ab3653fcf5e917f9d7fc3 last accessed 10 August 2011)

Keating, G. (2009b) Chiquita would've been more understanding. National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post) (Canada) 10 July

Kim, V. (2010) Judge throws out verdict awarding millions to Dole workers. Los Angeles Times 16 July (www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-dole-20100716,0,3471939.story last accessed 10 August 2011)

Koeppel, D. (2011) Liner notes by Dan Koeppel. bananasthemovie.com 30 May (www.bananasthemovie.com/liner-notes-by-dan-koeppel last accessed 9 August 2011)

Lindvall, D. (2011) The BANANAS!* story. Film International 3 May (http://filmint.nu/?p=1776 last accessed 10 August 2011)

Muir, K., Ide, W., Hayles, D. & Charity, T. (2010) Film: new releases. The Times (London) 17 April 17

Parky at the pictures (2010) Shattering the awful infinitude of confinement. Oxford Times 22 April (www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/leisure/8113440.Parky_at_the_Pictures__In_Cinemas_22_4_2010_/ last accessed 10 August 2011)

Rabiner, A. (2011) Bananas!* brooklynfoodcoalition.ning.com 12 April (http://brooklynfoodcoalition.ning.com/profiles/blogs/bananas-1 last accessed 10 August 2011)

Reid, M (2009) Movie chronicles workers' plight on banana farms. Documentary by Victoria filmmaker takes Dole Food Co. to task for pesticide use. Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia) 21 August

Reid, M. (2010) Newcomers taste success; Londoners' half-hour TV series will focus on Island's twin glories - scenery and food. Canwest News Agency 22 June

Russo, V. (2011) NYC skeak preview: Bananas! Monday May 9th. literanista.net 7 May (www.literanista.net/2011/05/nyc-sneak-preview-bananas-monday-may.html last accessed 10 August 2011)

Sandhu, S. (2010) Bananas!* review. The Daily Telegraph (London) 15 April (www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/7595648/Bananas-review.html last accessed 10 August 2011)

Simpson, B. (2010) BANANAS!* wins Audience Award at FICA - exclusive report. bananasthemovie.com 15 June (www.bananasthemovie.com/bananas-wins-audience-award-at-fica last accessed 9 August 2011)

Straczynski, S. (2009) Dole drops 'Bananas!' lawsuit. Brandweek 16 October (www.brandweek.com/bw/content_display/news-and-features/packaged-goods/e3i9f25616ad2abf49dd9101dda6b6ff5aa last accessed 10 August 2011)

Vlessing, E. (2010) 'Tough marketplace' at this year's Hot Docs. hollywoodreporter.com 5 May (www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/world/news/e3ic279d62a41409ef2b46420faa3fd8737 last accessed 10 August 2011)

Whittle, P. (2010) Bananas! The Sunday Times (London) 18 April (http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/film_reviews/article7097638.ece last accessed 10 August 2011)

Other resources

Bananas!* the movie website timeline of events (www.bananasthemovie.com/bananas-under-fire-timeline last accessed 10 August 2011) 

Bananas!* the movie website ‘how to take action’ (www.bananasthemovie.com/show/take_action last accessed 10 August 2011)

Bananas!* Vimeo channel (interviews, etc.) (http://vimeo.com/wgfilm/videos last accessed 10 August 2011)

Bananas!* facebook page (www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=32398727573&v=wall last accessed 10 August 2011)

Bananas!* twitter feed (http://twitter.com/#!/bananasmovie last accessed 10 August 2011)

Juan Dominguez's website (www.juanjdominguez.com/ last accessed 10 August 2011)

Dole Food Co. Corporate Social Responsibility pages (http://dolecsr.com/ last accessed 10 August 2011)

Dole Food Co. 'Find out where your banana comes from' (Videos & Google Earth trips) (http://dolecsr.com/PlanetDole/tabid/5401/Default.aspx last accessed 10 August 2011)

Nemagon / Fumazone on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane last accessed 10 August 2011)

Al Jazeera feature on the legal issues with Bananas!*/Dole and Crude/Chevron (starts around 13 minutes in, finishes around 24 minutes: http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/listeningpost/2011/02/2011219134917532278.html last accessed 10 August 2011)

Compiled by Ian Cook et al (last updated December 2011).