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DVD Review: ‘Big Boys Gone Bananas!*’

★★★☆☆

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) worked to bring the incessant ramblings of conspiracy theorists to the forefront of both the political and media mainstream, with its fast-paced, highly charged, wholly fresh brand of documentary. Following in hot pursuit was Robert Kenner’s 2008 effort Food Inc.  which encouraged a new generation of Americans to ask more questions about their country’s powerful conglomerate organisations. Now, Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten’s new film Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (2011) is the documentary that seems to have finally scared the big-wigs and fat cats into actually fighting back.

As a companion to his 2009 film Bananas!*, the story of twelve Nicaraguan banana plantation workers who sued Dole Foods over their use of potentially harmful chemicals, Gertten’s Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a shocking but true documentation of dirty tricks, lawsuits, bullying corporations, and media manipulation. This documentary about a documentary sees Gertten’s Bananas, selected to screen at the LA Film Festival, pulled at the last minute by the festival’s organisers, whilst the Los Angeles Business Journal compiles nothing less than a damning article about the director’s film.

The icing on the cake comes when a letter from Dole’s lawyers threatens legal action. What follows is not a courtroom drama, but a deft examination of Dole’s explicit tactics and also their subversive media schemes. Not only do they try to have the film banned but they go as far as to blacken the reputation of everyone involved in its making.

Unlike the aforementioned Fahrenheit 9/11 and Food Inc., Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is delivered at varying pace; that is, it isn’t just an onslaught of carefully arranged, titbit-sized pieces of information, orchestrated in a fashion that strongly leads its audience, forcefully shaping a viewpoint for them. Gertten allows his subjects to tell their story and whilst it’s practically impossible to feel anything but sympathy for the filmmaker, his family and the film’s production team, it’s obvious that the filmmakers have just documented their experience, leaving the audience to infer what they will.

As we live in a highly suspicious age where everyone has a theory about the government and big corporation, the subject matter of Big Boys Gone Bananas!* isn’t perhaps as thought-provoking or enlightening as it once would have been, but still packs a significant punch regardless. Gertten has succeeded in capturing the human impact of what Dole’s actions have done to himself, an individual whose intentions are nothing other than to document somebody else’s plight to film based on nothing but the evidence before him.

Russell Cook