A David-and Goliath story that delves into corporate scare tactics, legal effrontery, brand protection, media manipulation, online propagandizing and craven behavior, “Big Boys Gone Bananas!*” relates the story of Fredrik Gertten and the persecution of his 2009 film “Bananas!*” by Dole Foods. Crazy title and urgent message will likely get auds to forgive Gertten’s occasionally self-congratulatory tone and failure to mine the obvious humor in his own ordeal; proximity to U.S. elections will make the docu particularly pertinent, especially for politically minded viewers.
In 2009, Gertten, a Swede, brought his expose, “Bananas*” — about a lawsuit brought by workers against Dole for its use of banned pesticides in Nicaragua — to the Los Angeles Film Festival and, according to the current docu, watched objective journalism and moral courage dissolve before his eyes. After Dole claimed the movie was defamatory and threatened to sue, the festival took “Bananas*” out of competition. A cover story in the Los Angeles Business Journal toed the Dole line, as did public radio station KCRW and other L.A.-based media outlets, deriding the film without having seen it, according to “Big Boys.” UCLA law professor David Ginsburg wrote a supporting document for Dole that compared “Bananas*” to anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda. The festival finally agreed to screen the docu, but only after then-festival director Dawn Hudson read a statement that essentially threw the movie under a bus.
Gertten doesn’t present himself as an anti-corporate crusader: Being in the crosshairs of a multinational company left him at risk, based on what he could lose personally, with “Bananas!*” trapped in litigation limbo. “Big Boys” asks why the media took Dole’s side. Although their testimony sometimes causes the eyes to glaze over, various American and Swedish journalists, PR experts and Web-based propagandists line up and weigh in on exactly how a company like Dole gets others — including journalists, professors and festival boards — to do their dirty work.
What is shaping up as a losing proposition for Gertten is turned around only because Swedish parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle are so outraged by an American company’s attempt to quash a Swedish film that they take bipartisan umbrage. A burger chain in Sweden stops selling Dole products. A supermarket chain drops them, too. Individual consumers use their economic clout to force a corporation to act like a human being. The lasting legacy of “Big Boys Gone Bananas!*” may be that viewers never look the same way again at online reviews, business journalism or purportedly objective chat.
Tech credits are perfectly adequate.