Coming to NYC’s Ace Hotel, Maysles Cinema, and Park Slope Food Co-Op for special screenings and filmmaker Q&As this Sunday, May 8 (Ace), Monday, May 9 (Maysles), and Tuesday, May 10 (Park Slope), in conjunction with a DVD release on Tuesday, May 10: BANANAS!*
Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten’s exploration of the case of Nicaraguan banana plantation workers against Dole generated headlines before its scheduled world premiere in competition at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival when Dole threatened to sue both Gertten and the LAFF for slander. While the film screened, it was removed from competition, and Gertten went on to be sued individually. Ultimately, the case was dismissed, and Gertten was awarded legal fees of nearly $200,000 due to the frivolous nature of Dole’s complaint. In the meantime, BANANAS!* went on to screen at notable festivals around the world, including IDFA and Thessaloniki Documentary, and was eventually picked up for US release by Oscilloscope, who organized the screenings and are releasing the DVD next week.
The film details alleged cases of sterility, cancer, and other medical conditions in plantation workers as the result of a pesticide employed by Dole despite their knowledge of its dangers. Adding to the controversial nature of the documentary, a central figure is the workers’ lawyer, Juan Dominguez, who brings suit against Dole in California court. Known as a personal injury lawyer, his nickname “Accidentes” underscores popular sentiment that he’s an ambulance chaser – an opinion which later took on added relevancy when Dominguez himself was found to be under contempt charges for allegedly defrauding the court by coaching his witnesses against Dole to lie (earlier this year he was exonerated). With court cases both in the film and around the film against its subjects and filmmaker, BANANAS!* sharply demonstrates the power of corporations, often at the expense of their most modestly-paid employees, and the limits that they may be willing to go to in order to avoid acknowledging any potential wrongdoing. Like Joe Berlinger’s CRUDE, the film’s smartly structured David vs Goliath narrative gives cause for hope, though the complicated developments around the film’s exhibition threaten the reality of workers’ ability to attain social justice.