The curious case of the film “Bananas!” continues to play out on screen and in the courts.
On screen, “Bananas!” is a film that claims to be a documentary about Westlake Village-based Dole Food Co. and the health problems that thousands of workers in Nicaragua suffered because of exposure to pesticides. The hero is attorney Juan Dominguez, who, among other things, puts flashy ads on commuter buses and rounds up thousands of complainants to pursue a legal action against Dole.
But in the courts, an entirely different story has unfolded. Earlier this spring, a Los Angeles District Court found that Dominguez’s plaintiffs include people who never worked for Dole and who may have been coached to appear as victims when in fact that was not the case.
In a highly unusual action, Los Angeles County District Judge Victoria Chaney has told Dominguez that his actions amounted to extortion of Dole.
The drama is coming to a head just as the Los Angeles Film Festival, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, is set to open. The story was heavily covered by the Los Angeles Business Journal in its June 8 edition, and the Times covered the story in its preview of the film festival on June 16.
It does appear that, for a period of time, workers for Dole and other companies in Latin America may have been exposed to pesticides and suffered side effects, including sterility. One of the pesticides in question, known as DBCP, was banned by the United States in the late 1970s.
But there’s also no question that Dole has cleaned up its act under owner David Murdock, and in this latest episode attorney Dominguez appears to have far overstepped the bounds in the eyes of a Los Angeles County district judge.
Where that leaves the film “Bananas!” is a good question. Dole has threatened a defamation suit if the film is aired and, at press time, the judge was set to rule on further sanctions against Dominguez.
The film was set to air at the Film Festival, but the promoters withdrew the film from the awards competition, perhaps in deference to the claims against it.
The bottom line on “Bananas!” is that any film that purports to be a documentary must have some grounding in the truth. Separating fact from fiction appears to have put the film’s producers and directors on a very slippery slope.