Fredrik Gertten’s delight at being invited to premiere a film at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival was short-lived. The Swedish documentarian’s “Bananas!*,” chronicling a legal fight by Nicaraguan workers against Dole over pesticide use, would soon be embroiled in its own legal battle.
Gertten and his four-employee company spent the next half-year wrangling with one of the world’s largest multinationals over the right to show the film. His new documentary, “Big Boys Gone Bananas!*,” follows the events of those six months from the point of view of a David facing a lawyered-up Goliath.
The relentlessness of corporate might is disturbing but no surprise; “Big Boys” is, however, an eye-opening look at the way the U.S. media fell lockstep behind Dole’s claims.
Calling the film false and defamatory, sight unseen, Dole sent cease-and-desist letters to the filmmakers, the festival and its sponsors (which included The Times). Under threat of lawsuit, festival organizers pulled the doc from competition and screened it, bizarrely, as a “case study,” essentially questioning its veracity.
Maintaining his focus on the increasingly absurd events, Gertten doesn’t make the background of the earlier film, including allegations of fraud against the workers’ L.A. attorney, entirely clear. Onscreen, he maintains a naïve faith that Dole will be reasonable once they’ve seen the film.
Ultimately, on his home turf, activism and transparency serve the cause of free speech. But “Big Boys” remains a chilling look at the brave new field of strategic communication, which employs not just marketing experts but covert operatives to protect brands.
As one specialist observes, we live in “an era of extreme reputation anxiety.”
“Big Boys Gone Bananas!*" No MPAA rating; in English and Swedish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.