Big Boys Gone Bananas: a fight for the truth and freedom of speech
Bananas!, a documentary made in 2009 by the Swedish journalist and director Fredrik Gertten, tells the story of the effects of the pesticide Nemagon – or DBCP, short for dibromochloropropane – on banana plantation workers in Nicaragua. The film chronicles a lawsuit brought against the Dole Food Company in Los Angeles and the trial that followed, in which the plantation workers claim the banned chemical had made them sterile. In the film, Dole’s CEO (David DeLorenzo) appears in court admitting, under oath, that the company continued to use Nemagon after it knew the pesticide was harmful. Dole was found guilty of causing harm to the banana workers and of acting with malicious intent.
In the aftermath of the film’s production, Dole alleged that claims made by Nicaraguan workers in subsequent DBCP lawsuits were fraudulent. Dole’s evidence was based on videotaped testimonies rendered by anonymous witnesses. A judge ultimately dismissed the cases and suggested the fraud may have connections to the trial featured in Bananas!.
Around the same time, Bananas! was selected to compete in the Los Angeles Film Festival. Gertten began to actively promote his film.
Dole, through its Executive Vice President and General Counsel (Michael Carter), the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (the same law firm representing Chevron-Texaco in the $27 billion lawsuit brought against Chevron by 30,000 members of indigenous tribes living in Ecuador’s Amazonian rainforest for extensive environmental damages) along with the public relations firm Gibraltar Associates, unleashed a relentless campaign to quash the film and destroy the reputation of its creators.
In addition, the food giant threatened the Los Angeles Film Festival and its sponsors with legal action if they screened Bananas!. The festival pulled the film from competition.
Dole then served court orders on the LA Film Festival and on Independent Television Services (ITVS), demanding they turn over all emails, contracts, recordings and film footage related to the film.
In a supporting document for Dole, UCLA law professor David Ginsburg compared Bananas! to the infamous anti-Semitic war propaganda film Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew, in English).
Big Boys Gone Bananas!, a sequel to Bananas!, offers a front-row seat to that madness and to the legal battle that unfolded between Dole and Gertten’s filmmaking team.
In meticulous detail, the film reconstructs the dirty tricks and scare tactics (known as SLAPPs – strategic lawsuits against public participation) that Dole used to bury the truth and stifle freedom of speech.
In Big Boys Gone Bananas!, the absurdity was not confined to corporate ill conduct.
The film also exposes the utter failure of the American and Canadian mainstream media to exercise due diligence. Journalists widely ridiculed the film without having seen it. In one scene, television personalities from CTV misrepresent facts of the case, seemingly without having done any background research and merely regurgitating press releases handed down by the controversial multinational food company.
In Europe, however, Dole’s campaign of dirty tricks had the opposite effect.
The Swedish division of Reporters Without Borders, The International Federation of Journalists, The German Documentary Association, along with parliamentarians, Swedish journalists and acclaimed filmmakers, condemned Dole’s actions as an attack on freedom of the press and freedom of speech, making calls for anti-SLAPP legislation timely and urgent.
Big Boys Gone Bananas! is a must-see film for journalists – students or otherwise. It will have a special presentation at the upcoming Toronto’s HotDocs Film Festival, where Gertten will be in attendance.