Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fredrik Gertten's BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* is a vitally important documentary in so many ways

The abuses of corporate power worldwide -- but especially here in the USA -- have seldom been seen so clearly and powerfully as in this 2012 documentary, BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!*, by Swedish filmmaker and journalist Fredrik Gertten, a kind of follow-up to his equally strong doc titled simply Bananas!*, which was released (or at least tried to be released) in 2009. That most of America has barely heard of the earlier film -- and why -- is the subject of Gertten's latest, which doubles as an indictment of Dole, in my estimation one of the sleaziest corporations in the world (but, gheesh, there's so much competition!).

I was lucky enough to seek out the earlier film -- a poster of which is shown at right -- a couple of years ago, through, I believe Greencine, though neither Greencine nor Netflix now seem to stock it for rental (you can purchase it for just $12 at the site of its U.S. distributor, Oscilloscope Films), and it is very much worth seeing for two reasons: It tells the story of Dole workers in Nicaragua who were poisoned, made sterile and in some cases killed by chemical pesticides Dole used. The documentary shows that the corporation knew of this and did nothing about it.

In the new film, Mr. Gertten, shown at left, details the ways in which Dole tried to stop Bananas!* from ever reaching movie theaters (or any other venues), beginning with its really disgusting use of its money and power to cow the L.A. Film Festival from showing the film, and The Los Angeles Times (as well as so many other media outlets) from covering it in any kind ofa positive light. Learning how all this came to be is fascinating indeed, rather like watching a serpent stalk, terrify and finally strike its victim. Calling Gertten's doc a "fabrication: and a "lie" (without, of course, having actually viewed it) and then beginning a campaign to render it perceived by all as worthless, Dole does its job with remarkable ease -- and tons of help from our supposedly unbiased, "watchdog" media.

Notes one interested party along the way, "There isn't as much investment by the media in investigative journalism now as in the past." Indeed. Instead corporate press releases are simply accepted and used as "news."

Then we get to the Astroturfing experience, in which much money is spent to start a supposedly "grass roots" movement against Gertten and his film. This includes the "paid" muddying of reputations (and conversely, restoring genuinely muddy reputations) by the purchase of anonymous folk who will post on Google whatever their "employer" wants them to say.

As another of these shining examples of corporate sleaze posts on his web site as a selling point: "It's easier to cope with a bad conscience than a bad reputation."  That might go down as the "watchphrase" of our time.

Interestingly enough, it is not anything or anyone in America who comes to rescue this battered filmmaker. (Although he does have a very fine and decent lawyer -- above, right -- on tap in America.) Instead the help comes from his home country of Sweden. Why and how will lift your spirits and prove that even a small country like Sweden can fight for freedom of speech and art and culture (that's one of the country's bloggers, below).

Why, you might wonder, is Dole so insistent on stopping the Bananas!* documentary? Because, notes that lawyer, Dole is frightened to death of the lawsuits that could stem from what is shown and stirred up in the original film.

Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a vital documentary for several reasons. It offers a look at how our current corporations are running not just their own business but film festivals (above),  communities, cities, states and entire countries and, of course, us. It demonstrates the continuing creep of globalization. It shows us how the internet can be used for lies and defamation, and how difficult -- but not impossible -- it is to challenge this. And it, together with the original Bananas!* doc, underscores yet again how important to all of us, save the very wealthy, are the ever-declining rights of workers around the globe.

And, yes, even if you mumble, "Sure, sure, but we know all this already," trust me: You won't have seen anything quite like this little movie, in which you can observe step by step how a corporation rides roughshod over something it wants to stop/destroy. You owe it to yourself to seek out both films. The later of the two can now be streamed via Netflix and Amazon Instant Video or purchased on DVD. (You can also purchase the original film at Amazon.) On Netflix (I don't know about the other sources), the streaming includes introductory and closing remarks by lauded documentarian, Alex Gibney, plus an interview with the film's director, Fredrik Gertten.

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