OTTAWA’S HOME OF INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

Big Boys Gone Bananas!*

A sequel to the movie you weren't allowed to see.

Poster for Big Boys Gone Bananas!*Sweden’s Fredrik Gertten has to be a bit bananas himself to go up against the world’s biggest producer of fruits and vegetables. But he also showed considerable cojones in his persistent fight to get his 2009 documentary Bananas!* out to the world. This despite a gauntlet of legal intimidation and media manipulation that few independent filmmakers would likely have the stomach (or wallet) to withstand.

Bananas!* chronicled a landmark lawsuit by a dozen Nicaraguan plantation workers over the use of the banned pesticide Nemagon. The film was selected to premiere at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival, but after a threat of legal action by Dole, it was pulled from competition.

His surprising struggle against Dole has resulted in a follow-up documentary, Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, which was the runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at Hot Docs this year. It’s not hard to see why: At its core, this is a documentary about the importance of documentary-making.

The meta-documentary Big Boys Gone Bananas!* tells the story, from that film festival cancellation, of how Dole takes over the conversation about Bananas!*, beginning by discreting Gertten in the media.

A scathing article - featuring a dropped banana peel and the headline ‘The big slip-up’ – graces the front of the Los Angeles Business Journal. Other local media follow suit. Most cringeworthy is a supporting document for Dole written by law professor David Ginsburg that compares Bananas!* to a Nazi propaganda film.

All this, Gertten says, before anyone has actually watched it.

The following month – July 2009 – Dole files suit against Gertten and his production company, WG Film.

Gertten retreats to Sweden and it is only there that the David-and-Goliath saga gratifyingly starts to tilt in his favour, first nationally, then internationally. But not before a protracted fight. We are left to marvel at the lengths a huge multinational would go simply to silence a small Swedish documentary.

What makes Big Boys remarkable is that it was made at all. It took vision on Gertten’s part to realize he could spin the legal tangle of his original doc into a more complex, more personal one. It also demanded that Gertten avoid the easy route – giving up, ever – and defend his work at all costs, risking professional ostracism, strained relationships and bankruptcy. He is willing to go down the rabbit hole, and for that we should be thankful.

– Ariel Teplitsky, Toronto Star
 

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