In 2009, Swedish film director Fredrik Gertten made a film called Bananas!*, which centered around the depressing lives of the Nicaraguan plantation workers of the popular American company Dole. The work quickly transcended from depressing portrait to involving legal drama as Dole was found to be using an illegal pesticide on their crops of bananas, causing them to be tainted and workers to be sterile. As corporations often thing, they thought no harm, no foul, what the consumers don't know will not hurt them. That all shifted when the film entered eligibility for the L.A. Film Festival. What was originally a documentary whistleblowing on the corruption and wrongdoings of an enormous corporation was the byproduct and immediate target of the same corporation, threatening lawsuits and legal action if the film play in the festival.
Gertten, bewildered by the lawsuit from Dole representatives who clearly had not seen the documentary, allowed it to premiere at the festival with a statement at the beginning saying Dole reports it to be fabricated and containing "patent falsehoods." What unfolded was three solid months of breakneck legal action; a corporation of 75,000 versus an indie film company of four, with the corporation using tactics only in play by the person with the bigger piles of money. Dole did everything from buying the name "Fredrik Gertten" on Google, utilize a tactic called "astroturfing," which we discuss later, bribe several news sources, and play filthy with a company completely ill-equipped to fight back.
Gertten has done a dirty job to begin with, which is blowing the whistle on unfair corporate practices. He also did another, which is fight back against the same corporation that used similar unfair practices against him at all costs. And they still lost. If there's one thing we see in Big Boys Gone Bananas!* it's that when indie cinema and corporations clash the issues can get going - straight off a cliff.
Back to the concept of internet "astroturfing." It is often seen on websites like IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes, in terms of the film world, where accounts are made by representatives or marketers of the film, who feel that they need to establish completely fake reviews talking about a film (usually one that has been panned or will likely be) in a glowingly positive light. They're a tad difficult to spot, but when you see one with flattery and buzz words over content and substance, chances are, it may be an act of product-astroturfing. In the media world, it is when articles or responses are usually concocted in the same ingenious way as writing reviews. It's a disgusting little tactic, but it has gained immense popularity for its ability to sway people.
There's an amazing, yet depressingly real story inside Big Boys Gone Bananas!*. A story that is worthy of being told for generations on. In America, it received little coverage. The kind of story you'd believe would make front-page headlines in a country that calls itself the greatest in the world was shoved to the side collectively, without a trace. Gertten's bravery to carry out Bananas!* and boldly show it at a film festival was true courage. Making and producing Big Boys Gone Bananas!* was an act of insanity.
Starring: Fredrik Gertten. Directed by: Fredrik Gertten.
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