Juan “Accidentes” Dominguez is on his biggest case ever. On behalf of twelve Nicaraguan banana workers he is tackling Dole Food in a ground-breaking legal battle for their use of a banned pesticide that was known by the company to cause sterility. Can he beat the giant, or will the corporation get away with it? In the suspenseful documentary BANANAS!*, filmmaker Fredrik Gertten sheds new light on the global politics of food.
One third of the production price of the average banana is used simply to cover the cost of pesticides. All over the world, banana plantation workers are suffering and dying from the effects of these pesticides. Juan Dominguez, a million-dollar personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles, is on his biggest case ever representing over 10,000 Nicaraguan banana workers claiming to be afflicted by a pesticide known as Nemagon. Dole Food and Dow Chemicals are on trial.
Another banana worker is being buried in a small northern town in Nicaragua. For his whole life, Alberto Rosales used his machete to remove weeds from below the banana plants. His son says his last years were filled with pain, a body that was itching all night — and in the end his kidneys stopped working.
Inside the church, filled with friends and family, Father Bayardo begins his sermon. It’s not about Alberto Rosales after awhile. It’s about pesticides. Father Bayardo is accusing landowners and US transnationals of immoral practices which he says cause the death and suffering of many members of his community.
The whole region of Chinandega is an ecological disaster zone. The pesticide spray has left its mark everywhere. The soil, the water, the animals, the food of the people are all affected. The level of pesticides in breastmilk is 700 times higher than is acceptable2. Some say it will take 200 years for the ground to heal itself enough to produce natural crops again.
One of the pesticides, a DBCP-based compound called Nemagon, was banned in the USA in 1977 for causing male sterility. Standard Fruit—now Dole—continued to use the pesticide in its plantations outside the USA up to 1982.
My dream as a filmmaker is to create a piece of work that can travel into the hearts and minds of the audience. For me, it is what is between the lines that matters the most in telling the story. Through my film, BANANAS!*, I am hopeful that viewers will see the lives of the workers who are at risk: the people who are paying the price of hundred years of banana history. These are the workers, the families and the communities who are suffering from poverty and from the disaster of the chemicals left on their soil and floating in their water.
I also want to tell the human story – one that moves the audience with a strong narrative arc. As a filmmaker, I believe in complexity and in characters that make you feel something or sometimes just make you wonder. Juan Dominguez, the attorney for the banana workers, is a great character. He has much at stake to win or to lose. He is also bridging the locations of the story from the poverty laden banana plantation communities in Chinandega, Nicaragua to the wealthy and corporate Los Angeles, California in the United States.
BANANAS!* follows a historic first court case in Los Angeles Superior Court, and ends with a verdict from the jury. That verdict, however, is still under appeal. In April 2009, Judge Chaney – who presided over the plantation worker’s case – decided to kick out those cases represented by Juan Dominguez. This happened after the film was finished. Because of this new development, we decided to make a change with updated title cards at the film’s end reflecting Judge Chaney’s rulings. So far, Juan Dominguez has not been formally charged with anything. So basically, nothing has changed and everything remains status quo.
On May 8, 2009, Dole Foods wrote their first “cease and desist” letter to me, my producer, our production company and to the Los Angeles Film Festival. Suddenly, we the filmmakers became a part of our own film. We were transformed into the role of David – the underdog battling the corporate Goliath – Dole Foods. This legal battle continued for more than five months.
Dole Foods filed a defamation lawsuit against us on July 8, 2009. We were forced to expend a painfully large amount of money and time to defend ourselves from these wrongful accusations. We continued in our fight against Dole and to gather support from around the globe and in our home country of Sweden. Then on October 15, 2009, we prevailed, as Dole Foods withdrew this unjustified lawsuit. And now, this film can continue to be seen by all without the threat of legal action looming over it.
I am pleased that we can share BANANAS!* with you.
Fredrik Gertten, October 2009
Production year: 2009
Length: 87 min
Director: Fredrik Gertten
Producers: Margarete Jangård
Executive Producer: Fredrik Gertten
Editor: Jesper Osmund
With support from: The Swedish Film Institute – Peter “Piodor” Gustavsson, The Danish Film Institute – Miriam Nørgaard, Nordisk Film and TV Fond – Eva Færevaag, YLE – Likka Vehkalathi (Finland), NRK – Tore Tomter (Norge), TSR – Gaspard Lamuniere (Switzerland), VPRO – Nathalie Windhorst (Netherlands), Odisea – Roberto Blatt (Spain)
Los Angeles Film Festival 2009 – Nominated for Best Documentary Feature
International Green Film Award 2010 – Nominated for ‘Green Oscar’
In selection: Nordisk Panorama Reykjavik, Iceland 2009, M:DOX Film Festival Malmö, Sweden 2009, Leeds International Film Festival Leeds, UK 2009, CPH:DOX Copenhagen, Denmark 2009, Queens International Film Festival Queens, USA 2009, Four Screens Film Festival Paris, France 2009, IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Netherlands 2009, Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin, Germany 2010, One World International Film Festival Prag, Czech Republic 2010, Real Earth Environmental Film Festival New Zealand 2010