Big Boys Gone Bananas!* Reviews
The resulting events make up Gertten's latest documentary, Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, a followup film that depicts the personal struggles Gertten and crew faced when Dole decided to sue them. Gertten turns the cameras on himself as a case study on media bias, free speech, and corporate bullying. The result is a complicated film that is fabulously infuriating, increasingly frustrating, and is certainly a must-see for all documentary filmmakers (and every law student, to boot).
Movies about movies are pretty commonplace, but documentaries about the making of documentaries are an oddity, and Gertten's film is certainly that. It's a harrowing tale, but it suffers a little from the editorial slant it takes that is intrinsic in its form. There has been a trend in documentary films to have the filmmakers voice move to the foreground, going so far as to have the filmmaker be the subject of the film. Michael Moore epitomized this with Roger & Me, and took it to exhaustively extreme levels in subsequent films. Questions about the definition of documentary film soon arouse, and cries of propaganda become rampant. Thankfully, Gertten refrains from stylized hyperbole and sardonic one-two punches, but he does puts himself and, arguably, an agenda, up on the screen as proselytism. I'm not saying that Gertten's film is propaganda, but it is certainly a one-sided debate that is designed to bring about change.
Whether that change is good depends on your political stance (or whether you're with the Dole company), and I'm not about to get into the validity of Gertten's agenda. But to that point, neither does Gertten himself. At it's worst, Gertten's film fails from repetitive jabs at Dole without ever actually allowing the filmmaker's enemies a chance to validate their arguments (one-dimensional antagonists in any other film would be a sore point), nor does he ever overtly define his defense in the suit.
But at it's best, the film sparks discourse on free speech and investigative journalism, and that may be the more important take away from this story. Gertten started as a journalist before becoming a documentary filmmaker, and he has decided to use the medium as a long form exposé. With Gone Bananas!*, Gertten finds that American journalism, the bastion of free speech, is fraught with corporate influence, legal fears, and often times a crippling propensity for balanced reporting at the expense of real truths. Gertten becomes frustrated at the American media's failure to report his story accurately, and his efforts to understand this are the real strengths of the film, which includes supporting interviews with media critics, law experts, and other investigative journalist, including a look at a similar report in Cincinnati on Chiquita back in 1998. In the end, his native country outdoes America in supporting free speech through a politically showy conclusion that can only happen in a place like Sweden.
Gertten also succeeds in illuminating a flaw in America's judicial system that allows for multinational corporations to freely steamroll small-time activists through drawn-out court procedures, million-dollar legal backing, and manipulating reputation through the media. To call such cases a David v. Goliath scenario is obvious, but watching Gertten tirelessly struggle is empowering and inspiring.
In the end, Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is also a cautionary tale for aspiring investigative journalists and documentarians to be aware that they're muckraking can land them in hot water, be it fair or not. And while Gertten smiles at the results his film has had in helping people buy fair trade fruit, the real success for Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is yet to be seen. Can Gertten's latest film force American media to change or have American's demand truth from their news? If nothing else, this mandatory documentary will force viewers to ask questions and rethink their information intake. On that, Gertten can certainly toast his accomplishment.