Back in 2009, Indiewire reported on the controversy surrounding Swedish filmmakers Fredrik Gertten and Margarete Jangård, who were embroiled in a legal battle to save their documentary “Bananas!*” after their subject, the Dole Food Company, threatened to sue. The original film recounts the lawsuit that 12 Nicaraguan plantation workers successfully brought against Dole. It was selected to compete at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival, but was removed from the Documentary Competition once Dole took action (it screened as a case study instead). In “Big Boys Gone Bananas!*” (World Documentary competition), Gerrten takes the offensive and gets personal by documenting everything that went down when Dole got involved.
What it’s about: “First we made a film about banana workers claiming Dole Food Co. made them sterile,” Gertten told Indiewire. “Dole attacked/sued the filmmakers. Time for a new film! Mostly, it’s a personal story about what happened to me and how my life as filmmaker was suddenly in jeopardy. Everything was filmed: the Dole lawsuit attack; bullying, utilizing scare tactics; and corporate media control utilizing major PR-spin. All was disturbing and frightening.”
Says director Gertten: “I have done many different things in my life, from hard labor at a shipyard to starting up a musicians co-op record company. I worked as a journalist for years and had a weekly column in a daily paper in Southern Sweden for 13 years. I also worked as foreign correspondent for national radio, newspapers and magazines and hosted a TV show on the Swedish King Charles XII and Tzar Peter the Great set in Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia and Poland two years after the fall of communism.
“After more than 10 years covering hot spots like South Africa, Chile, Nicaragua, Lebanon, South Korea, and the Philippines, I wanted to focus on fewer stories with bigger impact. Documentary film seemed like a challenge, I did one and then one more, and kept going.
“Some people congratulated me for being sued by Dole. They said, ‘What a great PR stunt.’ I always hated that. This was not a stunt. It was a life-changing experience and I would hate anyone to go through the trials and tribulations of such an event. We lost more money then we gained and we are still suffering from this.
“On a positive note, in my home country of Sweden, the sales of Fair Trade bananas have more than doubled since Dole attacked my film. And the Fair Trade sales continue to rise. That’s a great feeling. One supermarket in the city of Lund played my trailer in their fruit department. They said that the sale of Fair Trade bananas increased 500%.
“Making this energized me and reminded me that I truly had an important story to share. An incredible journey. With longer working days floating over the time zones between Sweden and California, talking to my lawyer every week for two years and at the same time, traveling with the film giving interviews, reading legal documents and juggling being a good father.
“Dole wanted so badly to suppress the banana workers’ story from the first film and stopped at nothing: threatening film festivals and sponsors and ultimately suing me in an effort to smash me financially. What happened instead was the actual making of a new film. And now this is allowing us the opportunity to retell the story of the banana workers and how they were endangered by Dole. But, this time, it is the power of the people that ultimately wins.”
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
Keep checking here every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.
[Editor’s Note: This article has been revised since original publication to correct the mistake where Indiewire stated that “Bananas!*” was removed from the 2009 LA Film Fest. The festival screned the film as a case study.]