Yes, They Want No "Bananas!" -- Dole Foods Sues Filmmaker
Update: See WG Films response to the Dole lawsuit described below:
The fallout from a transnational suit against Dole Foods continues -- and in the most unexpected places. Last April, L.A. Superior Court Victoria Chaney threw out, in mid-trial, a class-action lawsuit against the Westlake Village-based conglomerate brought on behalf of Nicaraguan banana workers. The workers claimed to have been left sterile by Dole's use of the pesticide Nemagon, which has been banned since the late 1970s.
When it emerged during testimony that the victims were not plantation workers but simply Nicaraguans hired by attorneys to falsely claim damages, out went the case. (And with it, the reputation of one of the lead lawyers -- L.A. ambulance chaser Juan "Accidentes" Dominguez, whom Chaney has reported to state and federal authorities.)
Matters haven't ended there, however. Before Chaney dismissed the charges against Dole, Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten had completed a documentary about the case and trial that focused on Dominguez and was highly sympathetic to its bogus plaintiffs. Even after the charges were exposed as fraudulent, Gertten still showed Bananas!* at last month's L.A. Film Festival. According to Associated Press, Dole filed a defamation suit Wednesday seeking unspecified damages -- and to block future screenings of Bananas!*
"The lawsuit," wrote AP's Linda Deutsch, "said the filmmaker has
already announced plans to show it at other film festivals and then
distribute it commercially."
It's far from certain that Dole has
a case, since Gertten has inserted two text cards at the end of his
film that bring viewers up to date about the case's dismissal. This
version was shown at the L.A. Film Festival and its screening was
accompanied by audience discussions and printouts claiming the
filmmaker was now presenting his project not as the objective truth of
the trial, but as a record of what Gertten believed the facts to be at
one point in time.
"I think Dole's going to have a tough time proving defamation," USC law professor Jack Lerner told the L.A. Weekly.
Lerner attended the film festival screening and believes the insertion
of two explanatory cards at the end will be enough to deflect the
"If he presents the film as, 'This is the
truth,' he could have problems," Lerner said. "But he's saying, 'This
is the way we thought the facts were at one point in time.'"
Lerner, an expert in intellectual-property law, sees a greater danger posed by Dole's lawsuit.
concerned about the chilling effect this may have on documentary
filmmakers. Lawsuits like this can make filmmakers worry if they are
going to get sued for what they're doing."
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