Big Boys Gone Bananas!: Film Review

Doc about a campaign to silence the filmmaker's previous work is more narrowly appealing than it might have been.

Environmental concerns take a backseat to media critique in Fredrik Gertten's Swedish doc.

One little-seen documentary begets another in Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, Fredrik Gertten's examination of the controversy surrounding his own 2009 film Bananas!*. The picture both benefits and suffers from this self-reflexive approach, failing to adequately explore questions someone on the outside would address immediately. The result is of limited commercial interest, though it raises issues with broad appeal.

Gertten's original film, which took agricultural giant Dole to task for exposing Nicaraguan plantation workers to harmful pesticides, was supposed to compete in 2009's Los Angeles Film Fest. Then Dole launched a heavy-handed intimidation campaign. After bad press and much negotiation, the fest decided it would exclude Bananas!* from competition, holding a special screening and tacking on a disclaimer that stopped just short of saying "this documentary is a big fat lie."

It isn't surprising that Dole would object to a film they hadn't seen -- ask any number of auteurs who've provoked the Catholic Church -- but it is odd the company's lawyers would be so vague about their complaint. Or maybe they weren't. As he recounts the long fight to premiere his film (and to find distribution afterward), Gertten glosses over the specific charges Dole lobbed at him; his tone is that of a truth-teller being bullied, but he barely presents the case that his original film was factually solid.

Facts aside, the attempt to block the film presents a chance to see a multinational megacorp flex its PR muscles, and that narrative is shown clearly here. But while Big Boys addresses the extent to which journalists (particularly in the U.S., Gertten believes) too readily accept the claims of powerful entities, the film misses the opportunity to explore this issue in a more universal way. Instead it sticks with Gertten, whose many damage-control Skype conversations are of limited interest. The case takes an interesting turn toward the end, finding support in unpredictable quarters and lending the story some welcome drama.

Production Company: WG Film
Director: Fredrik Gertten
Producer: Margarete Jangård
Executive producer: Fredrik Gertten
Music: Conny Malmqvist, Dan "Gisen" Malmquist
Editors: Jesper Osmund, Benjamin Binderup
No rating/ rating, 86 minutes.