June 16, 2009

A letter to the international documentary community

Filed under: Take Action — admin @ 10:10 am

Dear colleagues,

We have been working on the feature documentary BANANAS!* since 2006, and we are slated to launch the film at the Los Angeles Film Festival, held June 18-28 this year.

The film follows a landmark court case – Tellez et. al. v. Dole Food Company Inc. et. al. – where a group of Nicaraguan banana workers, with the help of attorney Juan Dominguez, sues Dole Food for using a banned pesticide in their Nicaraguan plantations. Prolonged exposure to this pesticide was known to cause sterility in human males. It was the first time that agricultural workers from the developing world gave
testimony against a US-based multinational in a US court.

In January, 2008, a full jury found Dole Food guilty of causing harms to the workers, and of acting with malicious intent. They awarded damages to the workers, and Dole is now appealing the verdict. Despite this appeal, during the trial the CEO of Dole Food admitted on the stand that he continued to use the aforementioned pesticide in his Nicaraguan plantations, after it was banned in the US.

Dominguez had many other, similar cases in line following the Tellez case. Dole accused Dominguez of fraud, and the presiding Judge, Victoria Chaney, sided with Dole and threw out all remaining cases. At this point the Tellez decision stands, and case is still under appeal by Dole.

Recent developments have called the validity of certain aspects of the case into question. As those of you who have done courtroom documentaries can attest, court cases can keep developing years after the verdict. Regardless of the final outcome, the film is an accurate representation of the case over a period of time, and our broadcasters and all our other partners support the film 100%.

On May 8, the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, who represented Dole in court, attempted to get Judge Chaney to stop the film from being screened at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. The Judge stated to those present: “Just so we are clear, I am not in any way going to make, and I will not consider, any request for prior restraint on free speech. Okay? So, don’t ask me to go try and contact the film company. I don’t have jurisdiction over them. But even if I did, don’t ask me for it.”

As they were unsuccessful with Judge Chaney, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP sent us a letter demanding we ‘cease and desist’ plans to screen the film at the Festival. The first such letter sent to us, on May 8 of this year, was copied to all the corporate sponsors of the LA Film Festival, but was not copied to the LA Film Festival itself. A copy of this letter and related letters are available here.

To date, neither Dole nor Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP have actually seen our film. They are basing their comments on a three-minute trailer and information posted here on our website,

Dole’s team is now moving on to yet another strategy and have contacted the Swedish Consulate in LA and the Swedish Ambassador to the US in Washington, asking them to help stop the film.

To date they have only succeeded in getting the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) to pull out of ‘co-hosting’ the film’s opening night at the Festival. However, a lawyer from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher serves on the board of directors of the LAFLA.

Out of respect to the LA Film Festival, we did not broadcast any of these actions until now. However with days to go before our premiere, we are spreading the word.

We are considering all our options given Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s actions.

As we move forward, we hope you as our allies in the international documentary community will throw your support behind us. Dole and their counsel’s interference with us, ITVS, the Festival, and their sponsors represent a serious threat to independent documentary production.

Please join our mailing list for breaking news by filling out your mail address in the sidebar to the right, and join our facebook group.

Things will begin to move rapidly, and we will keep you updated as they come.


In thanks and solidarity,

Fredrik Gertten
Margarete Jangård
Lise Lens-Møller
Bart Simpson





  1. Dear Fredrik. Greetings from Czech Republic. We presented your letter to the 25 filmmakers, who are here and who will all support your courageous film and fight with Dole. Wish you all the best and have also posted your letter on my website.

    Comment by Tue Steen Müller — June 17, 2009 @ 6:59 am

  2. Although I have only seen the pitch it seamed to me that it had all the details to become a good and interesting film. (Since I have seen it I only eat bio bananas from Crete or Ecuador.) Keep me posted.

    Comment by Dimitra Kouzi — June 17, 2009 @ 9:18 am

  3. Dear Fredrik, I support your film and your fight with Dole fullheartedly! It is outragious that big corporations think they rule the world and can bypass democracy. Please keep your back straight and ofcourse we support you!

    Comment by Marijke Rawie — June 17, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

  4. Dear Frederik
    My best wishes to you and your partners in your strugle for showing the film, a very basic strugle for all of us documentarist.
    And of course, as you now, EDN will do what we can to support you.
    Warm regards
    Mikael Opstrup, Chairman of EDN

    Comment by Mikael Opstrup — June 18, 2009 @ 8:07 am

  5. Dear Frederik, I was triggered by the pitch of BANANAS and its story. I strongly believe that this film has to be able to find its public worldwide. Please go on with your good intentions and tell this story in its most true way. Best wishes and all the luck you need.
    Bram Crols, documentary filmmaker & producer

    Comment by Bram Crols — June 18, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  6. Greetings from Georgia, Please have our support for your film!

    Comment by Anna Dziapshipa — June 18, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  7. Dear Frederik,
    Please accept my support in your fight for free speech. I look forward to seeing your film in Europe later this year, and will spread the word as I can.

    Comment by Dana Wilson — June 18, 2009 @ 9:17 am

  8. Dear Frederik and crew,
    I keep my fingers crossed for you and you film – as well as your fight with Dole. As I come from a part of the world where freedom of speech, apparently existing, is ‘managed’ very smartly and threateningly, I believe that your film is one more proof we have to do something about it, as what is happening to you and your film is unacceptable.
    wishing you best of luck and will help with what we can,
    Anna Stoeva
    Development producer

    Comment by Anna Stoeva — June 18, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  9. Please accept our support from Lithuania for your film! Looking forward to see it in Europe!

    Comment by Giedre Beinoriute — June 20, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

  10. The Los Angeles Film Festival has just earned its acronym for its willing submission to multinational corporate pressure. Dole’s powerful legal firm, Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher has publicized in its June 23 letter that LAFF “itself provided a lengthy written and oral statement to the audience…” It’s interesting to me that LAFF should have such initiative. Is LAFF now a fact-finding body for all film releases it screens? Has LAFF undergone any other fact finding missions “itself” with regards to any other films? Maybe LAFF should, at least, have the courage to admit that it was put under some kind of pressure to act in the way that it did. I mean, we aren’t supposed to believe that it acts in the interests of unrestrained speech, are we? That’s a laff!

    Comment by Carlos M. Dominguez (brother) — June 27, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  11. Looking forward to your documentary. Thanks a million for your great work, I wish we had more people like you in the media.

    Comment by Pouya Ghelichkhan — July 10, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  12. It is a shame that the filmmakers did not verify their sources as it now turns out that they were fraudulent. I am sure there is a story to tell about lack of proper health concern and precautions for the banana workers at various Dole and other big agro-industry that operate in poorer countries but this lack of professionalism hurts all of us documentary filmmakers

    Comment by Araceli De Leon — August 19, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

  13. Frederik and film crew,
    I am grateful that you are exposing such a murderous and feudal system and the organization who keeps it in place. Otherwise this misery is my legacy too

    Comment by nora m des johansson — October 1, 2009 @ 9:09 am

  14. You bring an interesting point with your film. Transnationals, in search for even greater profits have been almost criminally careless about the health of the natives (workers and inhabitants) where their plantations are. I was (for a few months) living and working in the health care in Tapachula Chiapas, there, there are also banana plantations. The inhabitants complained of the rising incidence of leukemias in infants/children of the area. They atribbuited this to the use of pesticides. To avoid complains the companies changed the fumigation hours to nighttime (instead of daytime) as currently practiced then.

    Comment by Manuel — October 7, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

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