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See a Film a Major Corporation Tried to Squash

by Stephen Becker 30 Nov 2012 2:09 PM

Guest blogger Bart Weiss writes about independent film’s watchdog role and how corporate entities are doing their best to keep you from seeing them.


Art&Seek guest blogger Bart Weiss is the artistic director of the Video Association of Dallas. A version of this post originally appeared in a recent VAD newsletter.

Monday, Dec 3, we have a really important screening that is part of the Something to Talk About series.

The film is called Big Boys Gone Bananas!

The film is about Fredrik Gretten’s struggle with his film Bananas, about health issues in Nicaragua for people who work for Dole. In one scene, the CEO admits the company acted badly, however, Dole did not want this film to be seen. Consequently, Dole went to incredible extremes to try to stop it. I won’t tell you too much, because you need to see it. It really is a film about freedom of expression in the modern age. It is strange that we have laws entitling corporations to freedom of expression. But as this film shows clearly, those same laws are not in favor of individuals being able to express themselves.

In one sequence, the film is supposed to be in competition at the LA Film Festival. Dole sends threatening letters to the sponsors and board of the festival threatening them with all kinds of lawsuits. The festival staff takes it out of competition, relocates it to a really far away venue, and reads a letter from Dole before the film begins that basically says the film is a lie. As a festival director, I am embarrassed by how the festival handled this situation, bending to the wishes of a corporation over a filmmaker.

One of the important roles of independent documentary filmmakers is to shed light onto injustices in the world. They usually step on the toes of some moneyed interests. I don’t think we can count on the news, TV or print, to take on these stories in depth, and we need to make sure that these films get to be seen.

Back in the day, I was on the board (I was also chair and president) of a national organization called the Association of Independent Film and Videomakers. One of the things we did was advocacy work on behalf of filmmakers, but unfortunately there is not a group like that anymore.

In thinking about the film, I was reminded of my friend Mark Birnbaum’s film The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress. Mark had trouble getting errors and omission insurance that is necessary if you want your film to be distributed or shown nationally on TV. It took a long time and some arm-twisting to get it, because these companies were afraid, right or wrong, that Tom DeLay would sue. If DeLay had put pressure on these companies to not sell this policy, this film would have effectively been silenced.

So come out and see Big Boys Gone Bananas and talk about it. You won’t be sorry.

Big Boys Gone Bananas screens Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Studio Movie Grill in Dallas.