Fredrik Gertten was in attendance at the Cambridge Film Festival this week with his new film BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS. Less a sequel to his previous film BANANAS, which documented the terrible conditions of Nicaraguan banana workers, but more a telling of the reaction the film received, and how the Dole Food company tried to stop its release. Fredrik Gertten talks to Mike Boyd about the making of the new film, and why it has such an important message.
Mike Boyd: This movie is obviously a follow-up your previous film, BANANAS. Tell us what led you to making this film.
Fredrik Gertten: I did a film about banana workers, and then the big banana company attacked me – they tried to stop the film and stop the website. It was the biggest fruit company in the world, the Dole Food company. The techniques used against me were not only lawyers, but also media spin. They had people calling every journalist who interviewed me. In the end I found that a very interesting story because it was bigger than my fight against this corporation. And it was also something that powerful entities can do when they want to stop a story. So when you watch BOG BOYS GONE BANANAS, you can see the techniques that are used against other whistle-blowers, journalists and people who stand up again the powerful. So it’s a cautionary tale!
“I found that a very interesting story because it was bigger than my fight against this corporation…”
MB: Do you need to have seen BANANAS to then watch BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS?
FG: No in fact, I think it’s a good way to see it first – you will get very curious about the first one when you see this. And I like that. You know, Dole Food didn’t like the message from the banana workers. They didn’t want you to know, as a consumer, about their complaints. So then they constructed all this media spin to make us talk about something else. And hopefully this film will shift the focus back to the banana workers – just so that we can ask the question, ‘Who picked my banana? How are they treated? Are they sprayed with chemicals from planes flying over them?’ You know, all these very basic, simply questions. I think you can go quite far, just by going into your shop around the corner and asking them if it is fair trade bananas they are selling. If you see a fair trade organic label, you can feel that you are part of change. And if they don’t, you can ask them to bring something else to the shelf.
MB: It’s a powerful message.
FG: Yes, and my new film is about freedom of speech. In our constitutions we have free speech, and if we don’t use it, what’s the point? And if you start to self-censor yourself, why have free speech?
MB: Has there been a reaction to the film yet from Dole Food?
FB: No, there has been no official reaction yet. I know they’ve seen it. You know, they attacked my previous film, but like I said, this one is about freedom of speech; about fundamental democracy, independent media. And if you attack a film about free speech, you will tell the whole world that you are against it. So I don’t think they will come after me.
“…the powerful need independent media to check up on them…”
MB: We’ve spoken about the reaction of the Dole Food company to your films, but how have audiences reacted? What has been the progress and reaction in terms of what you were fighting for in the first place?
FG: Well, in Sweden the sale of fair trade bananas has more than doubled, and it keeps going up. So the debate is causing a lot of support for fair trade and I’m extremely proud of that. In many countries around the world people talk about free speech and media. A few weeks ago I was in Korea, where it played on television. A journalist came up and told me about their fight for free speech. So the themes of the film are universal. And we’re in a time where traditional media is losing money, journalists losing their jobs. There’s a major shift in society right now, it’s a global shift. And I think it’s something that we all have to be worried about. Because the powerful need independent media to check up on them – and the smart powerful people understand that this is a job that we need in society. Some powerful people think they can control the media.
BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS is now on general release in the UK.