business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Los Angeles Times reports that Dole Food Co. is threatening to sue a Swedish filmmaker over “Bananas!”, a new documentary being debuted this week at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

According to director Fredrik Gertten, the Times writes, the documentary is “a balanced, nuanced depiction of a trial pitting Nicaraguan banana plantation workers and a prominent L.A. attorney against a powerful multinational agribusiness.”

But Dole believes that the film is “an egregiously flawed document” that is based on an already discredited story, and it says it will sue both the director and the festival if the movie is shown.

The Times writes that “the events that ‘Bananas!’ partially chronicles are complex and the subject of ongoing lawsuits and disputes. They center on Dole's acknowledged past use of the pesticide dibromochloropropane, or DBCP, in Nicaragua and other countries. Banana farmers and other plantation workers have taken Dole to court, seeking millions of dollars in damages, contending that they were rendered sterile by exposure to the pesticide, which has been banned in the United States since 1979.

“Thousands of plaintiffs in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast and other countries have brought cases against Dole and pesticide manufacturers. Lawyers for some Nicaraguan plaintiffs have taken their cases to U.S. courts, hoping they will enforce verdicts against Dole that have been awarded by Nicaraguan courts.”

Dole’s problem with the film seems to center on its use of a dramatic device – it uses an attorney named Juan J. Dominguez, who was heavily involved in various lawsuits, as a protagonist, positioning him as a champion of the workers who led the fight against the company. But Dominguez has been discredited in the courts, charged with unethical behavior and threatened with contempt charges.
KC's View:
It sounds to me as if Dole may have a legitimate complaint, but I always think that these kinds of lawsuits succeed only in turning people like the director into a victim…which doesn’t help Dole. The company sues at its own risk.

BTW…I sometimes wonder what companies are thinking when they use things like pesticides that have been banned in the US in other countries that have less stringent regulations. Maybe they convince themselves that the US is being unfairly strict…and maybe they convince themselves that the economic benefits of using such pesticides outweigh the health and legal exposure they may have. But somebody at the table ought to be suggesting that this isn’t such a good idea, and enumerating the reasons why.

Another point. The word “documentary” sometimes gets misconstrued as meaning that something is objective…but in fact, most great documentaries have a point of view that is based on a specific reading of the facts. Documentaries are meant to provoke thought…and it sounds as if “Bananas!” is capable of doing that. But its ability to do so may be fatally compromised if it used the wrong guy to make the case in the film.

Not to be callous about this, but I think I’ll stick with the Woody Allen version. (When I first saw the Times headline, I couldn’t figure out why Dole was suing Allen over a comedy he made in 1971..)