At first it seemed like a coincidence that two documentaries opening in New York would pit two leftist European filmmakers against prototypical scumbag American multinational corporations, but upon further reflection it seemed almost inevitable given today’s geopolitical realities.
Opening Friday at the Quad Cinema is “Big Boys Gone Bananas!*” that recounts the ordeal that Swedish director Frederik Gertten went through after making a documentary titled “Bananas!*” in 2009 described as follows on his website (the asterisk in the films’ titles refers to the fact that they are about more than bananas):
Juan “Accidentes” Dominguez is on his biggest case ever. On behalf of twelve Nicaraguan banana workers he tackles the Dole Food Company in a ground-breaking legal battle for their use of a banned pesticide that was known to cause sterility. Can he beat the giant, or will the corporation get away with it? In the suspenseful documentary BANANAS!*, filmmaker Fredrik Gertten sheds new light on the global politics of food.
One third of the production price of the average banana is used simply to cover the cost of pesticides. All over the world, banana plantation workers are suffering and dying from the effects of these pesticides. Juan Dominguez, a million-dollar personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles, is on his biggest case ever representing over 10,000 Nicaraguan banana workers claiming to be afflicted by a pesticide known as Nemagon. Dole Food and Dow Chemicals are on trial.
Just before the film was scheduled to premiere at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival, Dole went on a fierce three-pronged offensive. Its public relations machinery lined up mainstream journalists to back their claim that the film was a fraud, mostly revolving around “evidence” that Juan Dominguez was a crook who lined up false testimonies from workers who had never suffered any damage from chemicals. The second prong was a lawsuit that would ensue once the film was released for general distribution. The third and final prong was heavy pressure applied on the film festival’s organizers to not show the film and if they did to preface it with a statement concurring with Dole’s charges. The fact that the festival was produced by the LA Times explains why the organizers acceeded to Dole’s demands. This is the same newspaper whose owner Sam Zell makes Rupert Murdoch look good, a greedy bastard who once told a conference on subprime mortgages: “This country needs a cleansing. We need to clean out all those people who never should have bought in the first place, and not give them sympathy.”
The mainstream media fell into line, buying into Dole’s talking points. Some of the television and radio coverage from back in 2009 is enough to make your blood boil with smarmy public tv and radio hosts wisecracking about Frederik Gertten’s documentary, making it sound like Clifford Irving’s Howard Hughes autobiography hoax. I was particularly incensed to hear a snatch of this sort of thing from KCRW, Los Angeles’s “alternative” radio station that is a disgusting outlet for NPR type cant.
Thrown back on the defensive, Gertten eventually wins support in his native Sweden, including both social democratic and conservative parliamentarians. Apparently the Swedes take their free speech rights far more seriously than the country famed for its bill of rights, eroding nowadays faster than Louisiana marshland.
Back in 2007 I reviewed “Michael Clayton“, a movie that like so many others in this genre (“Pelican Brief”, “The Net”, etc.) pitted an idealistic crusader against a malevolent corporation that stopped at nothing, including murder. I thought the film was good but qualified that with my feeling that:
Finally, it has to be said that the almost inevitable decision to make the corporation resort to murder undermines the credibility of the film. Since any such film today has to operate according to the conventions of drama, an old-fashioned villain is necessary. And what can be more villainous than murder? However, after Michael Clayton’s car was blown up, I began fidgeting in my seat and whispering to myself under my breath. What kind of corporation would take such enormous risks to stave off financial collapse?
In real life (and what better reflection of real life is there than the documenary?) corporations don’t go around blowing up cars. Instead, they do what Dole did. They buy off journalists and threaten legal action. The consequences are not as dire as murder, but they come close. Imagine what it feels like to spend three years or so in Nicaragua making a movie and then to have a bunch of bastards in suits telling you that your time and money were wasted?
I don’t want to give away any of the details of this gripping documentary but will say at this point that Bananas!* can be seen on Netflix streaming.
It is a toss-up to decide who is worse, Dole or Donald Trump—the villain in Anthony Baxter’s “You’ve been Trumped”, opening on August 3rd at the Angelica in New York.
Baxter’s film documents the struggle of farmers and other townspeople in Aberdeenshire, Scotland against an environmentally-destructive, esthetically garish and socially destructive golf course and luxury hotel complex on the nearby coastline. The site is one of the last places in Britain that has the original wilderness consisting of dunes and marshlands that are scientifically priceless and incapable of being reproduced.
This is the first film made by Anthony Baxter, who lives in Montrose, a small town that is a short drive from the Menie Estate on Aberdeenshire’s coast. Having made a documentary for BBC about man made erosion, he had become interested in the conflict between development and ecology.
Perhaps nobody else better symbolizes the power of Mammon than the awful Donald Trump who swaggers his way through the film. He tells reporters that the project is environmentally aware despite the fact that no environmentalist organization in Scotland has given its blessing.
He has the blessing, however, of the ruling Scottish National Party that has been seduced by the promise of jobs. This is the party that Sean Connery has been a leading member of years but this did not prevent him from turning down an invitation to attend opening day ceremonies at the golf course.
When the local college decided to award Trump with a honorary degree, a former dean showed up at the school to protest. At Trump’s news conference, Baxter peppers Trump with questions about his bullying of local homeowners and proof of the jobs supposedly being created. As always, Trump treats his interlocutor as if he were a peasant and he was King Louis XIV.
In one of the film’s most compelling scenes, and one that relates it to the travails of Frederik Gertten, Baxter is seen being hauled off to a local jail for the “crime” of entering Trump’s property in order to find out why local residents’ water had been unavailable for over a week after excavation had begun.
Both Baxter and Gertten are heroes for out time, guerrilla filmmakers taking on the high and the mighty. I strongly urge my readers to attend screenings in New York and to check the film’s websites to see if it is coming to theaters near where you live.