One item at the top of the most endangered list in US society and the media appears to be truth. As the lines between fact, publicity and the commercial propaganda known as advertising continue to blur beyond distinction.
But documentaries – at least those not relying on funding from questionable, clearly promotional and essentially infomercial sources – seemed to have remained above that troubling fray economically and politically. And free to speak their mind undeterred by those they criticize. That is, until one disturbing cautionary threat looming in 2009. Namely, don’t mess with the multinationals.
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger discovered the price literally of butting heads with corporate bullies, when left with over a million dollars in legal fees after exposing in his documentary Crude, toxic contamination by Chevron in the Amazon. That same year, Swedish director Fredrik Gertten’s Bananas!* recounted the landmark court battles of Nicaraguan plantation workers against the Dole fruit company multinational, for knowingly spraying the fields with the banned toxic pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) and rendering them sterile. Then finding himself with a Dole filed injunction court battle of his own.
But even more egregious than Dole’s lawsuit against the film – asserting that its claims against them were fraudulent – was how the US media simply fell into line under pressure from Dole and either attacked the documentary or ignored the story – and without a single journalist having ever having seen the movie. Along with the LA Film Festival pulling Bananas!* out of competition, and Dole mounting a huge covert when not overt multinational media blitz on and offline, planting stories when not harassing inquiring journalists across the planet.
Gertten’s subsequent new documentary within a documentary railing against this mounting litigation and assaults targeting free speech, is Big Boys Gone Bananas!* And the tactics engaged in by the Dole corporation as detailed in the film, have included stalking Gertten and his supporters across the globe with threats and intimidation; impersonating him and websites attributed to him online in order to discredit and defame him; and planting stories in the media that are actually press releases, with alleged leaks attributed to anonymous sources.
And much more. With Dole all the while disseminating disinformation through public relations rumor mills adept at phone tapping and email hacking, and staffed with former CIA operatives, reporters, politicians, and flacks who engaged in selling the Iraq invasion to the public, while discrediting its detractors.
The pace and procession of accusations uncovered against Dole throughout The Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is breathlessly mind-boggling. And a scathing indictment equally against Dole and a commercial media that increasingly defers to corporate bribes and intimidation. Along with the revelation that Dole was not so much interested in this small film, but rather the astronomical monetary damages that it might very well assist in generating in many parts across the globe, where Dole has engaged in its misdeeds.
Though one serious issue seems to have been sadly relegated to the background – what about those tragic Nicaraguan plantation workers who were the basis of this scandal in the first place. Barely seen or heard from in this second documentary, their dilemma as a given ironically raises a question for the filmmaker that receives no answer: If journalists are to be admonished for attacking Bananas!* sight unseen, then why is this not a similar expactation when it comes to film critics or audiences appraising the sequel.