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carleton 12/11/2010 - 11:50PM

Interview with BANANAS!* Director Fredrik Gertten

Carleton Cinema Politica screened BANANAS!* on November 3 with a lovely audience and plenty of questions unanswered. We were hoping to have Director Fredrik Gertten join us via Skype for a Q&A but his busy schedule (and time zone) would have required him to answer questions at 2:30 in the morning after a long flight. Instead we had a wide ranging and productive discussion but promised the audience that we would ask Fredrik some of the questions that came up via email. Below are some of the questions and Fredrik's responses. We also were able to get a video Q&A from a screening in Australia. We'll be posting it very soon so stay tuned! Special thanks to Fredrik Gertten, all the Cinema Politica volunteers and our audience!

For more information about the film and Fredrik you can visit: http://www.bananasthemovie.com

  1. In the film the lawyers specifically target the sterility effect of DBCP but it is claimed there are more possible effects. Is the science inconclusive on these other effects (such as birth defects)? 
     
    First of all I am not an expert, nor scientist or lawyer. I'm a filmmaker. So I went through this case tell a bigger story, a story much bigger than the Tellez case. A story of hundred years of banana companies active in Central America. With a lot of blood in the tracks. Hopefully my audience will get inspirered and read more. Ask more questions about the fruit in their own corner shop. The case we follow is on male sterility. It can be proven as the American factory workers got sterile. There's a lot of scientific proof. The effects on women, children with birth defects, the cancers, the kidney problems, the skin diseases exist in reality in the banana producing countries. But to prove it in court is harder on an individual worker. Maybe the harm came from another pesticide used in the region, on cotton, sugercane. The region of Chinandega is ecological disaster zone, the ground water is poisened, it will take the fertile soil two hundred years to recover from all the spraying. Remember also that medical research very often are investments, and right now 95 per cent of the medical research in the world is directed towards problems in the North. Then imagine how much medical research is focused on effects of pesticides on female farm workers in the tropics. And without published medical science there's no chance to win in court.
  2. Juan Dominguez appears to be quite an unorthodox human rights lawyer (i.e. owns a Ferrari). The film is very explicit in showing that Juan is a lover of the 'good life.' How did you handle his portrayal in the film and what was your goal?
     
    I never label Juan Dominguez a human rights lawyer. He is investing in a case where the proof is very clear. DOLE continued to use a banned pesticide and they admit it themselves in court. The letters between DOLE and Dow is enough for lawyers to get involved. There are six US law firms active in Nicaragua, there are others representing banana workers in the Phillipines, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and more countries. These are all plaintiff lawyers that invest their own money. I don't believe that social justice in Nicaragua will come through US lawyers. For me this is all a very sad story, the need of lawyers, that DOLE didn't do the right thing years ago in relation to their harmed workers. Juan Dominguez is a very colorful man, I like that as a filmmaker. The audience needs to make up their mind if he's good or bad.  Can a Ferrari-driving Castro-hating Cuban do good for the workers. The CEO of DOLE David Delorenzo appears in court as a sweet gentle old man. Can a man like that still be partly responsable for sufferings that haunts people 30 years later?
  3. There are some who are critical of corporate accountability being a narrow monetary reimbursement. What do the workers on the plantations want and how are they working towards it?
     
    The critics are probably right, but sometimes it's still better for the workers with companies that at least tries to be better. Who admits free trade unions. I cannot speak for the workers. My advice is that you talk to the unions in your country that internationally works with the banana workers unions. Check out www.bananalink.org.uk
  4. What's next for human rights cases such as this (Alien Tort Claims) and do you think precedents will be set for corporate accountability? Are there other alternatives; legal or otherwise?
     
    In a better world crimes against workers should be treated the same way as human rights and war crimes. UN or other international bodies should represent the workers in the legal battles. First because there would be no private profit dreams involved, second because it's almost impossible for a small law firm like Juan Dominguez to beat DOLE in the long run. They are too rich, too mighty.
  5. What's the latest on Juan Dominguez?
     
    Juan Dominguez is doing well with his firm in Los Angeles. DOLE managed to spin the media that Juan should be disbarred or sent to prison. But in reality he has never been charged of anything. And it will never happen, at least not in relation to the banana cases.