Last month, Working Films returned to the Sheffield Doc-Fest, June 13 – 17, hosting a third year of our highly interactive Story Leads to Action panel, co-hosted with the Festival.
Coordinated by our UK staffer Sarah Ross, and facilitated by Robert West, Story Leads to Action brought together filmmaker Frederick Gertten, and his new film Big Boys Gone Bananas*, with Marcos Zunino, a legal officer at Article 19 in London specializing in freedom of expression and international law.
In 2009, when Frederick Gertten’s film Bananas!* was accepted into the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), he was delighted. An examination of food giant Dole’s devastating use of pesticides in Nicaragua, the film would be having its world premiere in the same city as Dole’s global headquarters. Then the “cease and desist” letters started arriving. Despite not having seen the film, Dole was determined to control the narrative around it – and cast Gertten as a major liar. Dole also began bombarding the LAFF itself, from the organisers to journalists and sponsors, with shocking results.
With our Sheffield Doc-Fest audience, we facilitated a lively discussion about the current risks for filmmakers, especially from multi-national corporations with deep legal pockets. While Gertten vigorously responded to Dole’s meritless action and, with his legal team, demonstrated that the lawsuit was simply one part of Dole’s overall strategy to stifle debate about their environmental actions and liabilities, real damage to the film’s distribution strategy, especially in the US, had already been done. Our conversation was a precautionary tale about how one filmmaker’s passion for truth went against the behemoth of a multi-billon dollar industry and ultimately prevailed – as Big Boys Gone Bananas!* reveals; we shared practical tactics for documentary filmmakers and updates on how international law is supporting artistic expression.
We loved being in Sheffield in June, and look forward to coming back in 2013!