In a victory for documentary filmmakers and First Amendment advocates, an LA judge has ruled that food giant Dole must pay $200,000 to cover the legal expenses of the filmmakers of the 2009 documentary BANANAS!* after filing a defamation suit against the filmmakers that Dole later dropped in the face of international outcry.
The long and twisted case began last summer when Dole tried to stop the world premiere screening of BANANAS!* at the Los Angeles Film Festival after a different judge ruled that the court case profiled in the film (which accused Dole of sterilizing Nicaraguan workers) was based on fraudulent activity by the film's protagonist lawyer. The LA Film Festival went ahead with the screening, despite threats from Dole, but removed the film from competition and set it amidst a conversation about documentary filmmaking practices, all of which set off a controversial debate over that very question. Throughout, BANANAS!* director Fredrik Gertten sought to rally filmmakers to his cause, finding more success internationally than in the US, particularly in his home country of Sweden, where a concerted effort by the country's parliament and business-led boycotts of Dole led to the company dropping its suit against the filmmakers.
Gertten, who told us at the recent CPH:DOX festival in Denmark that he is at work on a documentary about the case, released a statement celebrating the judge's decision:
"We are extremely happy and relieved with the court's ruling after this year-long struggle. Corporations such as Dole must respect freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. These conglomerates have unlimited resources available to them to get their messages out, while independent filmmakers who are under attack while trying to uncover the truth, have very limited means to defend ourselves."