Genre: Docudrama/Legal Documentary
Year Released: 2011
Distributor: Virgil Films (Digital and TV distribution with Brainstorm Media and DirecTV)
Running Time: 90 minutes (original version), 100 minutes (Something To Talk About version)
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: Bananas!*
For Fans Of: This Is Not a Film, Blue Gold, The Corporation, Mickey Mouse Goes To Haiti, The Central Park Five
-This review is based on the Something To Talk About version that I saw when renting this film via iTunes. This version has an intro and outro that consists of brief interview footage about Big Boys Gone Bananas!*.
-Watching Bananas!* first is strongly recommended before watching this sequel.
-Fredrik Gertten started out as a journalist who worked in several continents around the world before becoming a documentary filmmaker. He also owns the film production company WG Films based in his hometown of Malmo, Sweden.
-Bart Simpson, whom you may also know for another film I reviewed called The Corporation. makes a few cameo appearances. Simpson is also a PhD candidate in film at the University of Exeter.
-Leonardo DiCaprio makes a cameo appearance even if it’s by archived footage from a festival that Fredrik Gertten attended to show Bananas!*.
We have another Iridium Eye first, everyone. This is the first time I reviewed a sequel to another documentary. Some of you may remember when I covered Fredrik Gertten’s controversial doc called Bananas!*. It was a fine piece that exposed the conditions of Nicaraguan plantation workers that were exploited. Even though I didn’t think it was perfect, it was a shocking insight into the produce industry. I also found out in my research of that film was that it almost got banned here in America because Dole threatened the filmmakers with a lawsuit despite the insurmountable evidence presented in Bananas!*. No film like that should ever be banned. Then again, I seem to have a habit of reviewing movies that almost got banned or faced censorship issues such as This Is Not A Film, Taxi, The Central Park Five, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and even a PG-rated anime movie like Jungle Emperor Leo wasn’t safe from the threats of big bad conglomerates.
People need to be aware of these things, and I’m so thankful that people like Fredrik Gertten were able to fight back by any means necessary.
Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is an autobiographical docudrama dealing with the fallout of finishing Bananas!*. Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten is about to premiere his documentary at the LA Film Festival, but he gets a huge parcel in his office which contains a two hundred page lawsuit towards him and WG Films claiming defamation. Dole decided to sue the independent director and his company of only four employees. Once they went to Los Angeles, the film festival could only play the film if one of the hosts would read a disclaimer that it was a work of fiction. Not only that, but the lawyer Juan Dominguez who was prominently featured in Bananas!* was declared a fraud by Dole despite him helping to expose the truth. By the way, no one at Dole actually saw the film at this point. Fredrik Gertten wasn’t going to take this lying down as him, his company, and lawyer do their best to get the film distribution.
This may have been a docudrama, but this was an unintentional legal thriller or dare I say a horror film. Much like Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not A Film, this was a cathartic cry for help in facing film censorship for completely bogus reasons, and there’s no way anyone could make anything up here. The production is much more raw compared to the preceding film Gertten created, but I have little complaints there. Seriously, if Big Boys Gone Bananas!* looked like a Hollywood production, then everything would be so disingenuous. The cameras were out of pure necessity because Fredrik Gertten wanted as much evidence of his plight as he could by having a film crew around him especially during his trip to the LA Film Festival or by going to the Swedish Parliament to present Bananas!* over there. Everything feels and was so real as they went across America and Europe to help their case while also setting a potential precedent for filmmakers not getting censored. Even the media was against Gertten with the American mainstream media being ruthless as they paint the monolithic Dole as the underdogs while painting that filmmaker as some big bad bully despite him having nowhere near as much money as that company. His situation was so sympathetic and I wanted to root for him all the way.
While the realistic production worked, everything would have fallen apart if there wasn’t gripping conflict or raising some significant questions. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* certainly delivers with this real-life story. As I have mentioned in my reviews of This Is Not A Film or Taxi, it’s one thing that a country like Iran would censor filmmakers given their national laws, but the fact that an American company is trying to stop a director from Europe only validates my points in those posts and then some. Fredrik Gertten really hit the nail on the head when he’s in the United States. He says “It’s totally crazy that you [America], in the biggest democracy in the world, should say we can’t even show this film.” Gertten has a very legitimate point. Wouldn’t that lawsuit be unconstitutional in hindsight because it’s hindering his free speech and the Bananas!* film wasn’t defamatory at all? Think about it. In the previous film, you have top ranking Dole employees literally confessing about the usage of damaging chemicals and video evidence of the workers being treated like animals carting off several bananas around the plantation. As I’ve learned from watching Blue Gold, that would be a case of a company trying to pull off a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit. A SLAPP suit is something companies do to scare people into being censored and it’s quite disgusting. Dole did this not because WG Films were lying, but because they exposed something that would be quite detrimental to their image. That company even goes farther into intimidating Gertten by putting Dole ads on his website or if anyone Googles his name. Dole even resorts to astroturfing some videos about the Bananas!* movie on YouTube. That means fake trolls come and spam his site with negative comments under the guise of being part of a grassroots campaign on behalf of the food conglomerate. Since it’s not an organic movement like any real grassroots attempt would be, it’s like a fake company-bought lawn, hence the term astroturfing. I also applaud Gertten for trying to make this a nonpartisan issue. At the Swedish parliament, he gets MPs on both the social democratic side and the conservative side to watch the film. Both of them agreed that the lawsuit was madness and when you have people on both side of the political spectrum to unify, you know you’re doing something right.
While Big Boys Gone Bananas!* has a lot going for it, I would certainly hate to make this docudrama sound like God’s gift to cinema. For starters, Juan Dominguez was only in the film via recapped footage. They do talk about his reputation being sullied by Dole and I wanted to get his perspective on things. That could’ve been a segment all on it’s own. I also thought some of the recaps got annoying. If anyone didn’t see Bananas!* prior to this, they won’t have an issue, but it’s so much better watching the first movie for the full effect. The clips do not give any newbies justice. Besides the ending, there wasn’t that much footage with the Nicaraguan workers. They were some of the bravest ones in the first film coming out to reveal the wrongs they’ve suffered. Also, in the version of the film that I saw, I thought the intro and outro were unnecessary. Sure, Fredrik Gertten talking about his career was fine, but I would’ve preferred them to be either part of the whole film or plays as extras instead.
Big Boys Gone Bananas!* was an exquisite documentary and I’ll even say that this was better than Bananas!*. This should be an alert to anyone interested in free speech and controversies about film censorship. Fredrik Gertten’s story is very inspiring and it shows that the little indie creators shouldn’t be pushed around. The level of detail in this tragic story was exhaustive and I applaud the filmmakers for getting as much evidence as they could to show that they were wronged. I seriously wish more people would stand up and fight against companies that are doing bad things. Sure, I wish there would’ve been more cameos of Juan Dominguez or the Nicaraguan workers, but I understand only filming so much. If you want a powerful story that reveals the dark side of corporations and how filmmakers can be under attack, then look no farther than Big Boys Gone Bananas!*.
To close out this review, I’ll end it with a quote from one of the Nicaraguan workers near the end of the film.
“The truth will never be silenced.”
Adjustable Point System:
Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t care about censorship issues.
-Powerful autobiographical story
-Raw footage accentuates the real life plot of this docudrama
-Well researched material with tons of evidence backing Gertten and company up
-Lack of presence from the people in Bananas!*
-Some of Gertten’s decisions like not speaking before the disclaimer at the LA Film Festival
-The intro and outro of the Something To Talk About version.
Final Score: 10/10 points
Content Warning: Teens and up, if they’re interested. There’s some swearing in the film and there’s recapped footage of the original Bananas!* movie that shows the exploitation of the plantation workers. The content is quite adult as younger audiences won’t get the nuances of censorship, SLAPP suits, or 1st Amendment issues.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is property of WG Films. DVD cover from IMDB and property of WG Films.