Thursday, 3 May 2012

BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2012 MUST-SEE #14

Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (2012) dir. Fredrik Gertten ****

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In the summer of 2009 I became aware of a curious case wherein Fredrik Gertten, a documentary filmmaker from Sweden (along with his producing partners) was being sued by the Dole corporate fruit bats and that the Los Angeles Film Festival had yanked his film Bananas*! out of official competition and relegated it to a special screening.

The internet media coverage I read - even at the time - seemed slanted against the filmmaker and his expose of Dole's exploitation of fruit workers in Nicaragua. Sounded to me like the Dreaded Dole Dandies were irresponsibly and knowingly using pesticides that caused sterility in numerous men working the fields.

My response to this was typical - of me! I scoured the cupboards to see if there were any cans or packages with the Dole label. Thank Christ, there were none - nor were there any fresh fruits in the fridge.

I hate throwing out food, but I would have anyway. From that day on, I have never purchased anything with Dole's name attached to it. Without knowing more than the seemingly spurious accounts in the articles about the lawsuit, I sided with the filmmaker - AGAINST Dole.

They're a corporation, after all. A multi-national corporation at that. I simply have no use for such entities. As far as I'm concerned, they're all criminals - organized criminals.

What sickened me even more than the attack by Dole upon an artist's God-Given right to free speech was the appalling behaviour of the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF). A film festival - no matter how big, small or (in the case of the LAFF) inconsequential - has a duty to ALWAYS support artists. End of story. No arguments allowed. Anyone who disagrees can crawl back into whatever pro-censorship-anti-free-speech slime pit of fascism they crawled out of. Hopefully, I won't see you in Hell as I had to renounce Satan at my Godson Illya's christening some time ago.

So, I finally saw Bananas*! two weeks ago. It's a powerful, shocking and moving film about Dole's corporate irresponsibility to its own workers. (I'll review the film under separate cover here at KFC soon.) A few days later, I watched Gertten's new picture, Big Boys Gone Bananas!* and I am so happy he made this film.

From a personal standpoint, it says and exposes the truth behind everything I believe in about American (and by extension, Canadian) imperialist corporate culture - how most governments, politicians and bureaucrats are mere pawns and puppets in "democracies" that are little more than corporate-owned totalitarian states.

That mainstream media is becoming increasingly useless.

That the notion that free speech exists is drastically diminishing.

And last, but not least, the idiotic hoops a filmmaker must go through to protect themselves from nuisance suits launched by corporate scumbags.

All of this is simply beyond the pale.

Once he was slapped with a huge lawsuit from Dole, Gertten wisely began to document his struggle on film. What he captures is borderline surreal.

He and his co-producers go into research/confab mode immediately, but are also plunged into the nightmare of the LAFF threatening not to show the film. Dole, not only brought suit against Gertten and partners, but sent their claims to the festival itself and all of its corporate sponsors. (Many of these sponsors are a Who's Who of entertainment and media power brokers - shame on all of them for not lifting a finger.)

Every single newspaper of record began running huge articles about the lawsuit - slanting everything on the side of Dole, basically reprinting Dole's press releases and most egregiously, not bothering to check sources. They were bought and paid for, no doubt.

The LAFF did the most cowardly thing of all. At first they tried to appease Dole and came up with some solutions/options for Gertten which you really need to see the film to discover. You won't believe it if you just see it here in black and white. The festival's suggested appeasements all side with Dole and essentially would force Gertten to go against everything artistic expression stands for.

When the moronic suggestions were rightly rejected, the festival pulled the movie from official competition, shoved it into a cinema far out of the festival zone and planned to read a statement regarding their cowardly stand prior to the screening.

On the night of the screening, Gertten is introduced by Dawn Hudson (who is now the CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - AMPAS - which, should speak volumes already, and if it doesn't, there's no hope for you) then-director of the festival. She invites him to take the stage. He approaches and she motions for him to speak. He balks. He's been promised that she'll read the cowardly statement before his speech to the audience. She feigns surprise, but finally gives in and reads the statement. (Do any of these cowards have any self-respect?)

She uses the word "fraudulent" to describe the film's primary subject (even though she admits this same subject is fighting this with the bar association and criminal prosecutors). Though carefully worded so that she, nor the festival are overtly questioning Gertten's credibility, it's clearly slanted to put notions in the minds of the audience that the film they're about to watch is a potential crock.

The cowardly words she mouth-pieces are:

"We are not eager to be sued. Nor, given what we know, do we believe that BANANAS!* - in its present form - presents a fair or accurate portrait. . ."

Darling Dawn, all you REALLY know is that this complex case is not over yet and that a multinational corporation is threatening to sue everyone's ass to protect its own rectal opening.

Her final words to the audience are the biggest spoonful of bull-feces-laden-sugar to help the medicine of the cowardly go down:

". . . we are showing this film - out of competition - as a case study, to illuminate a timely exploration of what makes (and doesn’t make) a responsible documentary."

Give me a break.

I hope Dawn Hudson is enjoying her plum job with the Academy Awards geezers. Checking out her woeful acting credits on the IMDB suggests she shifted her thespian abilities to being a shill for the interests of the Status Quo.

What follows in the film is like some kind of Kafka nightmare through the eyes of a David Lynchian dreamscape. It's unbelievably cruel, nasty and terrifying. Sometimes it's so absurd, you want to laugh. Can this really happen in a democratic society? Well, considering democracy is dead - at least in North America - the answer would be a resounding, "Yes!" Deep pockets usually equals justice.

Ultimately, to see an artist go through the legal torture inflicted upon him by Dole (and everyone on their payroll) is as stomach-turning as it is anger-inducing.

His producer, for example, gets an anonymous letter suggesting she disavow herself from Gertten and the film. It even strongly implies that "money will flow" to her future productions if she does so (also implying, she's finished if she doesn't).

Dole hires a public relations firm to contact every major journalist in the world (including a whole bunch of them in Sweden), promising one-on-one access to the Dole side of the story.

News item upon news item in every media known to man flings mud upon Gertten and places Dole on a pedestal.

People close to Gertten feel like they're under constant surveillance.

Canadian Co-producer Bart Simpson laments that even in Canada, artists would never receive the kind of media and government support Gerrten received in his home country - against Dole. As a Canadian, I can only agree.

A supposed advocate for free speech compares Gertten's expose of Dole to the most horrendous piece of Nazi propaganda, The Eternal Jew.

Bloggers, forum posters - obviously Dole plants - were writing the most damning things about Gertten and his film.

Even when things seem to be turning in his favour, Gertten has more battles to fight.

Gertten never backs down.

By the end of the film, though, I do wonder how many other artists would bother to persevere in similar circumstances? What Hell the film drags us through is disheartening - even though Gertten's first movie, after years of struggle - can now be seen.

As a filmmaker, I thoroughly commiserated with Mr. Gertten. Years earlier I'd gone through a not dissimilar nightmare over a controversial work I produced and co-wrote. My experience, while horrendous at the time, seems now like kid-stuff compared to the horrors Gertten went through.

The bottom line is that when artists are under attack, we are all under attack.

"Big Boys Gone Bananas!*" has only one showing at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival 2012. If you miss it, the movie will be released theatrically via Kinosmith. That said, maybe if enough people beg Hot Docs, another screening will be added before the end of the festival. Tickets are available at the Hot Docs website HERE.