Dole Foods sued a Swedish filmmaker and his film company for defamation on Wednesday, alleging he insisted on showing his documentary, “Bananas!” at the Los Angeles Film Festival after learning it was based on a fraud.
Dole sought unspecified damages and, upon a finding of defamation, a permanent injunction barring Fredrik Gertten from showing the documentary in public again. The lawsuit said the filmmaker has already announced plans to show it at other film festivals and then distribute it commercially.
“To screen, promote, and profit from this film, despite the fact that its entire premise has been adjudicated a fraud … is the epitome of reckless and irresponsible conduct,” Dole attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr., a noted First Amendment lawyer, wrote in the suit. “It cannot possibly be justified or defended. It must stop.”
Under threat of lawsuits by Dole, “Bananas!” was shown twice in June with a lengthy written disclaimer by Los Angeles Film Festival organizers who said it did not present a fair and accurate account but was worth showing as “a case study” of what happens when a story changes after a documentary is completed.
The lawsuit accused Gertten of “actual malice” for ignoring a court ruling that the case on which the film was based had been part of a massive extortion plot against Dole by attorney Juan J. Dominguez, the star of the film.
“Bananas!,” which has the subtitle “On Trial for Malice,” documents the alleged plight of Nicaraguan workers who say they were made sterile by the pesticide DBCP used at Dole banana plantations in the 1970s. It even accused Dole of causing the deaths of banana workers, something not alleged in lawsuits. It was completed before the fraud was uncovered showing that the men were never plantation workers and were recruited to lie by Dominguez and his Nicaraguan counterpart in a scheme that could have cost Dole $40 billion in damages.
Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney has reported Dominguez to the State Bar of California and to federal prosecutors for perpetrating a fraud designed to extort billions from Dole.
Chaney dismissed two pending cases against Dole because of the fraud.
Even after being informed of the fraud, the lawsuit said that Gertten was defiant.
“Defendants ignored the truth and screened this blatantly false film,” the suit said. “And just as defendants never contacted Dole prior to ‘completing’ their film, they likewise refused to consider the court’s ruling of fraud prior to releasing it. There can be no clearer case of defamation or actual malice.”
Judge Chaney was made aware of the film before it was shown at the Los Angeles Film Festival but declined to take any action because of First Amendment restrictions against prior restraint.
In an interview before the documentary was shown, Gertten told The Associated Press he knew about the judge’s ruling, but asserted he didn’t see any evidence of fraud.
“If I saw it, I would publish it. This film is valid,” he said. “I hope Dole will understand it is a legitimate piece of work. … I believe in freedom of speech and telling the story as I saw it.”