If the advanced reviews of Bananas!* were any indication of how it would be received, the new documentary by Swedish director Fredrik Gertten was not slotted to be one of the hot tickets at this year's Los Angeles Film Festival. Yet, when it premiered at the James Bridges theater on June 20th, crowds of people wearing Bananas!* t-shirts and buttons cued up in the standby line for a chance to see the suddenly buzzworthy film.
Bananas!*, which follows the 2007 landmark trial of “Tellez v. Dole Foods,” in which multinational corporation Dole Foods was prosecuted for the alleged sterility suffered by its Nicaraguan field workers as a result of the pesticide DBCP used in farming bananas, was pulled from the festival's documentary competition on June 17th after the trial's presiding judge issued a statement that the prosecuting attorney, Juan Dominguez, had falsified information used in the trial.
Despite threats of litigation by the Dole Food Corporation, the LAFF decided to go ahead with their scheduled screenings the film, billing it as a case study instead of a documentary. Though the controversy has been devastating for Gertten, who claimed to have no knowledge of the fraud, it's arguably the best thing that could have happened to the film.
Upon entering the theater, attendees were issued a written statement from Film Independent and the LAFF detailing the controversy. It explains that the plaintiffs seen in the film, “lied under oath, presented false employment records and presented fraudulent evidence of sterility.” Watching the film with these details in mind contaminates almost every aspect of it, even those that take place outside the courtroom. Clearly, Juan Dominguez is not the philanthropic defender of the people he projects himself to be, and it's questionable whether or not any of the Nicaraguan field hands were actually injured by Dole's use of DBCP.
But one fact of the trial (and the film, by extension) remains indisputable: the Dole Food Company knowingly exposed their workers to a chemical that causes sterility, and continued to do so even after the manufacturing company issued its recall.
As a result of the pervasiveness of Dominguez's fraudulent conduct, the judge explained that “[s]adly… if there are people who have been injured in Nicaragua due to DBCP exposure, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for them credibly to litigate their claims…” But the legal drama brought on by the Dole Food Corporation, and the mass interest generated by the film's subsequent ejection from the festival competition, has exposed the multinational's culpability to numbers otherwise not probable for a sub-par documentary, ultimately opening the door to justice enacted on both a small scale, by truly altruistic, honest attorneys, as well as on a larger one, by conscious consumers with the power of their dollars.