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June 22, 2009

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Jean B. Knowlton

give me a break. Do you want a film that's finished 8 months ago to be re-opened? Better to make a new film. Just because you saw it well after it was finished and things have changed in the last month, doesn't mean you have to insist that the film change to incorporate your point of view.

Michael Burns

As a practical matter it's very difficult to make or remake a film of this kind because the story could change and you have to figure out when to start, when to finish, when if necessary to restart, and when to refinish, and on and on.
In a case like this I think the film should carry an opening card stating that what we're about to see is only part of a larger story. Then at the end there should be a card directing us to a website with the full story at least up to the day of release.

Jonathan Miller

Don't most documentary film funders (TV channels, foundations, etc.), broadcaster, and importantly Film Festivals, favor character driven films with hero David's who triumph over bad guy Goliaths?

And people who want to make documentary films (at least for a living) have to make films that can get funded and shown.

Approaching such a story as this one (not just the story, but rather how you make the film) with distance, skepticism, a sense of the complexities involved, a searching for and exploration of the contradictions, etc. - instead of being so close to and identified with a subject you may not (clearly) know enough about, maybe be harder on many levels, a) it wouldn't have gotten funded probably, b) it demands more of the filmmaking c) it wouldn't have been shown in the festival perhaps? (or at least not as many festivals or as readily), d) the audience for the film would be harder to identify or find, and e) on the other hand it might be a film that could last, that maybe could be strong enough to survive despite this revealation and despite the changes and perspective that history would inevitably bring, in this case just faster and more clearly than may usually be the case.

Alex Rivera

AJ-

Good to see you at the festival.

But to continue our drunken discussion, I fear you start this post with an assumption that needs to be questioned. Your title is "What is the Documentarian's Responsibility When the Story Changes?"

But I wonder - has "the story" changed?

You imply that that since the judge found that fraud was committed, that the story BANANAS! tells is compromised, and therefore that the film should be be reopened. For this logic to make sense, we need to assume Judge Chaney's ruling reflects the truth.

But let's put BANANAS! aside for a moment, and look at the big picture. One of the things documentarians do - often - is question the justice system.

Look at THE THIN BLUE LINE, an obvious example. Errol Morris uses the film to present evidence that counters a conviction a court delivered, and ultimately, by releasing the film, Morris proves the inmate's innocence.

But what if Errol had made the case for innocence in the film, but after releasing the film a judge disagreed with the evidence presented in the film? Would he be asked to recut the film to square his version of events with the judge’s? Of course not.

Pushing for a recut of BANANAS! is no less absurd.

You're essentially telling a documentarian (Fredrik Gertten) that a court ruling should compel him to doubt his own subjects, and re-cut his film. But Gertten, who spent over two years following his subjects, doesn’t agree with the recent ruling. The filmmaker believes that Juan Dominguez did not likely commit fraud, that the farm workers’ cases have merit, and that Judge Chaney’s ruling must be seen as a triumph of Dole’s team of paid investigators and corporate lawyers (who produced all of the evidence of the alleged fraud, using testimony gathered from anonymous witnesses).

At the BANANAS! premier no one asked Gertten if he still believed in his story. When the lights went up the "case study" began with participants implicitly accepting the truth behind the new ruling from the judge, and asking Gertten how he would deal with his presumably tainted film. It would have been hard to imagine a better post-screening discussion, from Dole’s point of view – no one even mentioned the pesticide DBCP.

I was bewildered, and left wondering if maybe the panelists fell into a trap, and too easily saw the Ferrari driving trial lawyer as a sleazy stereotype – a mercenary trial lawyer at best and fraudulent latino hustler at worst. One way or another, the assumption was made that Judge Chaney (and Dole) had found real fraud, and not that Juan Dominguez and filmmaker Gertten had found the real truth.

The same day that Judge Chaney dismissed Juan Dominguez’s case against Dole, potentially saving Dole tens of millions of dollars in damages payable to Nicaraguan farm workers – that same day - she was nominated for a position on a state appellate court by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and removed from her role in the case. Dole is a major donor to the Governator. Hm.

It doesn’t matter if it’s by questioning a past court decision, following an unfolding court case, or in the case of BANANAS!, a case that takes a turn after the film is completed, documentarians play the most crucial role when they question the official story.

I'm inclined to believe that "the story" that BANANAS! tells hasn't changed a bit.

Adam Eeuwens

Fredrik Gertten's film follows a court case, with a jury, with cross examination, and a verdict. Beginning, middle and end, right? Then later, behind closed doors the judge listens to anonymous witnesses, there is no jury or cross examination or camera, and suddenly the whole case is a fraud. For anyone, besides the cowering cowards at LAFF and their lackeys (yes you AJ), it seems that the true Banana Republic is the United States, where one manipulates at will the letter of law to prevent the spirit of the law reaching justice. You yourself seem to be enslaved by an unquestioning loyalty to ... what exactly?

Michael Burns

If The Thin Blue Line was initially been released before a guilty verdict had been rendered, I honeslty believe some sort of card would/should have been added to reflect this including the fact what was just seen is an ongoing story with a website to keep track of developments.
What I suggested above in no way undercuts the film, nor was it intended to.

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