Following the screening of Big Boys Gone Bananas!, it is difficult to feel uplifted about the state of American media today. Don’t worry, says director Fredrik Gertten. The problems plaguing us are spreading around the world.
I served as moderator for a Film Forum following tonight’s screening of the meta documentary, though I will note that with Gertten in attendance, most of the discussion was directed his way. Gertten’s film follows the legal shakedown directed at him by the Dole Fruit Company following his last documentary Bananas! As he noted before in his intro to the film, “Don’t worry, I’m still here.”
What frightened me most about the documentary was the evidence of just how successfully Dole had turned American media against the film even before it screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival. I suspect the organizers of SFF were saddened by seeing how quickly threats and scare tactics had led the leaders of that festival to bail on support of Gertten and his movie.
There is vindication in this film by the end, of course, though Gertten revealed to us in the Forum that any money shelled out by Dole at the end of legal action all went to attorneys’ fees and not for the hardship suffered by Gertten himself.
Some of the attendants at our forum saw parallels in Gertten’s story with other modern media manipulations, most notably the buildup to the Iraq War in 2003.
We all commented in the seemingly counter-intuitive PR moved by Dole. If someone makes a film you don’t like about your company, isn’t it best to ignore it and treat it as insignificant? But Gertten did a good job both in film and in person of pointing out why Dole would want to make an example of Bananas! While Gertten obviously survived a legal attack and was in fact selling copies of Bananas! outside the Big Boys screening, He also noted that the chilling effect of anti-First Amendment lawsuits like the one waged by Dole have been a discouraging American filmmakers from attacking major corporations.
Personally, I thought Big Boys was an important film which should become required viewing for everyone in the American media. It also is a movie which Gertten wants to get in theaters for an Oscar run (one of our Forum attendees in fact offered a few thousand dollars toward that effort) so I encourage people to investigate and see if they want to help with that cause.