Can a group of poor Nicaraguans succeed in a trial against an American corporation? What risks have transnational concerns dared take in the Third World? Can a film by Swedish documentarist prove the freedom of speech in the United States? From September 19, the Doc Alliance Films portal presents the detective documentary Bananas!*...
”I have never liked the big guy picking on the little guy” says Juan Dominguez, a Cuban lawyer and Ferrari lover, while starting the greatest case in his career. In the sumptuous comfort of his Los Angeles office, he has been dealing with Hispanic clients trying to recover damages for injuries inflicted in traffic accidents or by negligent medical officers. However, now he and his company decided to face Dole Food, one of the greatest American corporations; he decided to defend twelve Nicaraguan labourers who have been working at banana plantations managed by the concern and have suffered lasting health consequences. By means of the “pilot” group, Dominguez wanted to start a case proving that Dole had been using harmful pesticides in Central America for five years after their international ban issued in 1977, exposing thousands of completely uninformed and frequently illiterate employees to the threat of sterility, cancer and other diseases.
The film Bananas!* follows primarily the dramatic development of the legal trial, with the corporation representatives undermining their shocking confessions with statements such as “the past is the past” or “what’s done is done”, and with several controversies even on the part of the Nicaraguan chief witnesses. When shooting the film, Swedish documentarist and investigative journalist Frederik Gertten probably never guessed that he himself would be sued by Dole Food after finishing the film. The corporation accused the director and his film of being offensive and libellous while using all its might to prevent the film from reaching the American audiences. The Los Angeles Film Festival withdrew Bananas!* from its competition after being threatened by Dole that failing to do so, the festival would be sued as well; the film distribution was suspended throughout the legal proceedings, i.e. for almost a year. The act of trying to silence the film seems even more telling than the verdict which has dismissed Dole’s legal action against Gertten. It is illustrative of the fact that the unlimited financial resources of the corporations make their representatives believe that there is no limit to their actions; any crisis can be easily averted by means of the corporate treasure trove. Undoubtedly, it is no problem for Dole Food to pay the damages to the pesticide victims or to cover the expenses for the trial with the director; to whom, on the other hand, the legal trial may have been fatal. After his personal victory over a “Goliath”, Gertten can enjoy the satisfaction of both the attention of a wider audience and the continuation of the debate about the rights of Third World labourers. To those who have not received their damages yet, any unpurchased Dole banana or can becomes a symbolical gesture of support.
Doc Alliance is a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.