Rating: 3.5/5In 2009, Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten completed Bananas!*, a documentary about Nicaraguan banana plantation workers and their initially-successful lawsuit against Dole for using pesticides known to cause sterility. Just prior to screening Bananas!* at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Gertten learned Dole had challenged the validity of the ruling, claiming that both lawyers and defendants had committed fraud and lied to the court. As the case was being re-evaluated, Dole went after Gertten and his documentary, claiming it libeled the company and therefore U.S. courts should prohibit Gertten from releasing his film.
In response, Gertten hired a new film crew to chronicle his fight with Dole, ultimately releasing a second documentary entitled Big Boys Gone Bananas!* In a sense, Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a documentary about a documentary, though it is more concerned with the freedom of an artist to create without corporate or government interference, while Bananas!* discussed the Tellez v. Dole Food Company Inc. lawsuit directly. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* barely touches on the case at all, never providing enough information to make any kind of accurate conclusion about Tellez v. Dole, and that is exactly the point: the legal aspects are merely tangential to the film’s true focus.
Dole and its public relations group worked to discredit Gertten and his production company as well as threaten members of the L.A. Film Festival with legal action if they allowed Bananas!* to be shown. Media spin pushed Dole’s side of the story, presenting what could charitably be called editorial as fact, with snotty news presenters and ridiculous rhetoric straight out of fiction; it’s a real life Bob Roberts, and it is sometimes frightening. Most chilling is the revelation that UCLA law professor David Ginsburg, without having seen Bananas!*, compared it to the infamous Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda film Der ewige Jude.
Stylistically, Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is nearly identical to the first 2009 docu Bananas!*. The aesthetic is limited, bordering on tedious, as low-key and inoffensive as Gertten himself. Gertten spends much of the film with a hangdog look and stooped shoulders, and while it never seems like a put-on, it is decidedly dull.
Gertten, though, was willing to reveal that both he and his colleagues had problems of their own. The first Dole propaganda article causes Gertten’s PR agent to lash out with a sexist “bitch” at the journalist, something he immediately realized was a mistake. An expert interviewed by Gertten pointedly calls him naïve and asks, regarding Dole’s reaction to Bananas!*, “What did you think was going to happen?”
As an exploration of the effects of a large, billion-dollar company using their money and power to silence someone in a way that violated their rights, Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is both informative and chilling. Unfortunately, it’s because of this focus on censorship rather than the pesticide lawsuit that the most interesting facets of the situation remain unexplored. And though Big Boys Gone Bananas!* may in the end be just a defense of his first documentary, one must remember that Bananas!* was in no need of defending before Dole and their lawyers tried to silence him.