MFF 2012 DAY EIGHT: Big Boys Gone Bananas!* – Off White Lies – The Milwaukee Show

COMPLETE MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL 2012 COVERAGE

DAY ONE: Starbuck – Opening Night Party
DAY TWO: Ethel – Come As You Are – Bones Brigade: An Autobiography – V/H/S
DAY THREE: Sans Soleil – Dead Weight – Andrew Bird: Fever Year
DAY FOUR: Inland Empire – Bad Brains: A Band in DC
DAY FIVE: Pink Ribbons, Inc. – 11 Flowers – How to Survive a Plague
DAY SIX: Romancing in Thin Air – Elena – The Imposter
DAY SEVEN: 5 Broken Cameras – Goodbye – High Tech, Low Life
DAY EIGHT: Big Boys Gone Bananas!* – Off White Lies – The Milwaukee Show
DAY NINE: Las Acacias – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
DAY TEN: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Policeman
DAY ELEVEN: Quartet – No God No Master
DAY TWELVE: Mourning – As Goes Janesville – Blackmail – The Ambassador
DAY THIRTEEN: The Invisible War – Klown
DAY FOURTEEN: Old Dog – Little Red – Five Star Existence
DAY FIFTEEN: The Sessions – Detropia

10-4 Th
08/15

Wouldn’t you know it? Another technical glitch, sound-related this time, which strands about forty people in the Oriental’s, at least, very pretty lobby. I camp on the stairs, grateful for a rare opportunity to ketchup on pages of to-be-written punditic pablum, thanks to my idiotically dense schedule. Twenty-five minutes later “five or ten more minutes!” is announced along with placatory voucher-safing (lots of made up words coming today). And five or ten minutes later the technical problem is abandoned as the throng is escorted into an alternate theater…

Sporadically, you and I may be treated to an opportunity which actually merits its preceding wait – and this documentary proved to be such an occasion. Thank christ! The curiously titled Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a 2011 Swedish documentary about the litigious and somewhat nefarious treatment of filmmaker Fredrik Gertten and co. by the Dole corporation. You see, in 2009 Gertten had completed a documentary called Bananas!* about 12 Nicaraguan banana field workers who were suing Dole because official pesticides had been making them sterile. Dole, found liable in this case for malice and misconduct, was poised to pay – what was it, over a billion? after Dole CEO David Delorenzo admitted culpability – and as such, took the efforts of an independent Swedish filmmaker quite seriously. The insecurity of Dole, the world’s largest fruit company, leads to their suing Gretten before anybody has seen Bananas!* and to doing everything they can to smear LA-based lawyer Juan J. Dominguez, defender of the Nicaraguan workers, with unfounded allegations of fraud (Angelinos will assuredly have seen Dominguez’s face before on buses and park benches, as I recall having seen). The first main arena for confrontation is 2010’s LA Film Festival where Gertten’s film was to be screened. But months before and consistently up until the film’s screening date, Dole would send vaguely menacing letters to Gertten and the LA Film Festival’s management until so much pressure is exerted on the festival committee that they are forced to remove Gertten’s film, success through silence. Gertten does manage work with the festival and arrange a distant, private screening, which is attended by sinister Dole VP Michael Carter (originator of the myriad slanderous letters) who ensures a disclaimer is read to the audience beforehand which says that Dole insists the film is filled with lies and fabrications (one critic would remark that he felt Dole was inculpating the entire audience in the commission of a crime).

Gertten would return to his office in Malmö, Sweden and spend the next year involved in legal battles with the corporation, who attempt to bleed him dry and discredit him to anybody in the industry who will listen. They hire agents to post derogatory comments all over the internet and write op-eds which promote their agenda… just do a web search for anything involving Gertten and his film and you’ll see. Gertten finally gets lucky when his film is screened for Swedish Parliament – all of whom, nonplussed, receive libelous letters from Dole – and finally, triumphantly, succeeds in his own lawsuit against Dole… after his film is compared to Nazi propaganda by UCLA law professor David Ginsberg, who had not viewed Bananas!* (and, fascinatingly, disputed this with some internet critic here just after the film screened)… after Dole officially bought Gertten’s name on Google, so that every web search for him will result in a Dole ad infiltrating your browser… and after many, many months of Gertten’s full energy devoted to self-defense, depressing calls with lawyers and slander whipped at him from every direction. Hurrah!

The part of the film which is not just about this lawsuit takes a more general focus of how modern technology assists those who would censor and would promote misinformation, and is, I think, quite sobering and terrifying, dense with interviews from media strategists, PR men (the big and scary DC-based Gibraltar Firm), journalists, authors and filmmakers. For how brief it is, I found it quite comprehensive for a film with a more singular focus. I have to say this: never trust a single review you read on the internet. Ever. They’re all fake and the ones that aren’t are worth less than a pittance. It’s a real coincidence that I already knew this going into the film, since I did mercenary work for a certain unnamed coupon-peddling megabusiness where I spent lots and lots, and lots, of time sifting through online business reviews. What is it, I ponder, about automotive-related businesses which attract the unscrupulous? I do have my pet theories. Cosmetic surgeons? They do not have a single real review. None. They’re all fake. OK, OK, I digress. Somebody had to say it. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* also details one of these remarkable situations… remarkable because I hear about it so often… where umbrage is taken, vitriol is curdled, and lawsuits are brought by many people who have not viewed the film/read the book. Just incredible how often this happens, in this film and elsewhere; example after example of soulless bureaucrats who have no idea what they’re talking about, blindly taking orders from above. It’s very easy to get worked up when there’s so much immorality at play ‘these days’ (I’ll never use that expression again). This film got me significantly worked up – more involved, really – and its happy ending feels like a real miracle. David defeated Goliath! It’s the best docu I saw at the Milwaukee Film Festival this year and is highly recommended. Let’s pray that it’s all true.

Off-White Lies is a 2011 Israel-France co-production, debut feature of Maya Kenig, made with the help of both Israel and Jerusalem Film Funds. Nominated for seven Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars) and winner of Best Actor (Gur Bentwich) at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It’s a cutesy film about a thirteen year old named Libby (Elya Inbar) who is dumped onto her Israeli father Shaul (Gur Bentwich) by her selfish mother living in California, and it takes place during the 2006 Lebanon War (one of the film’s first scenes takes place in a bomb shelter where citizens flee to with a feeling of routine). It doesn’t take Libby long to form a picture of her highly unconventional father, who is “between homes” and invents mildly useful gadgets on the side – like semi-cigs, half-sized cigarettes for occasions where only a few puffs will satisfy (I want semi-cigs!). Shaul takes Libby on his destinationless road trip, where she sometimes curiously eyes tanks in the other lanes, until they settle down in a ‘host family’ house, posing as refugees from the north. I’ve focused on the film’s topical implications but they really are little more than window dressing for a highly conventional indy tale of adult life from a youthful perspective; lil Lib is at the age where she will begin to view her father as a man, comparable to other men, and must reconcile his willfully fringe status, his sexual latitude, his very inconsistent career prospects. There is nothing overtly “wrong” with Off-White Lies, it is thoughtfully made and comes from a reasonable perspective, but there is also nothing new. I saw it to learn more about Israel, and I did. Everybody is fluent in English and Mac computers are everywhere – EVERYWHERE. Or maybe they’re just in every film because indy filmmakers all use Final Cut…? I think I’m onto something here. The film did make me think, at least, in this way: Men love their toys. Men love toys. And sometimes women are just more toys to them.

written by David Ashley

Seen so far:
Starbuck
Ethel
Come As You Are
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
V/H/S
Sans Soleil
Dead Weight
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Inland Empire
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
11 Flowers
How to Survive a Plague
Romancing in Thin Air
Elena
The Imposter
5 Broken Cameras
Goodbye
High Tech, Low Life
Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
Off White Lies
The Milwaukee Show

Ranked:
Sans Soleil
Inland Empire
Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
Goodbye
Elena
5 Broken Cameras
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
11 Flowers
Ethel
How to Survive a Plague
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
High Tech, Low Life
Come As You Are
Off White Lies
V/H/S
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
The Imposter
Starbuck
Romancing in Thin Air
Dead Weight

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