Went to movies last night. Not in a theater, but a bar in Helsinki. To see a film. Not just any film, but the famous (notorius?) Bananas.
Why am I saying this? Two things. First: the bar. It was an event arranged by Doc Lounge, a scandinavian joint effort to bring documentary makers and audience around same table – literally. To make it an informal encounter, over a beer or a glass of wine, to meet each other and to talk about documentaries and all things related.
I love the concept and actually had really good time last night. Check the Doc Lounge webpage for the coming attractions in the city near you. A personal note to my students (past and present) in Tampere: Bananas will be shown there the 1st October. You should see it – and I am not saying it is the greatest documentary in the history of the mankind – but because of all the lawsuits and spin-off phenomena it is generating.
Which leads me to my second point: the film. Bananas as a film is interesting, good, balanced documentary. Fredrik Gertten (who was also present last night) and his team has done a good job. But what is truly interesting – mind-blowng actually – is the hassle following the film. Dole (you know, the company which makes the canned pineapple you buy in the corner supermarket) has sued Gertten and his company with a major lawsuit, trying to prevent the release of this film. It was banned in the Los Angeles Film Festival. A total gagging effort with big money… and this has caused a major turmoil in the European press- and film circles. See eg. here. So much so, that there will be a screening in the Swedish Parliament October 1st, that is next week.
There is no point for me repeating all that has happened nor all the arguments, they are well presented on the movie website. But it raises lots of concerns about the role of documentary and journalism (and I totally acknowledge the distinct difference between the two) in our society: what can we write, show and tell – and who has the power – forget the right- to shut up filmmakers and journalists if they want to. A multi-national company, knowing they are wrong, but threatening with a lawsuit that will cost millions and millions in layers fees – a sum which they can easily afford and well aware that a production company, newspaper or a individual journalist can not.
Here is an excerpt from the letter from Dole’s law firm to WG film (Gerttens production company), ITVS and LA Film Festival:
/…/ This letter is a formal demand that you immediately cease and desist making false and defamatory statements of purported fact regarding our clients, and that you immediately publish prominent reactions of the same. Failure to do so will subject you to legal action.”
“Slap suit” and a “Threat to sue” I think are the terms used, referring to action where it is not essential whether you are right or wrong, but when you are bluntly told “we have more money to spend on this so shut up or we will sue the shit out of you”. And this concerns not only documentary makers but journalists as well; and thru them – or should I say thru us – the fundamental structures of our society.
You think this can only happen in the US? Wake up and smell the coffee. You go and badmouth Nokia, StoraEnso (both names mentioned eg. only), do you think they send you a letter congratulating on a journalistic/documentary work well done?
If you ever get that letter – which some of us have – I’m sure the content is totally different.