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Alex Rivera
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AJ- Good to see you at the festival. But to continue our drunken discussion, I fear you start this post with an assumption that needs to be questioned. Your title is "What is the Documentarian's Responsibility When the Story Changes?" But I wonder - has "the story" changed? You imply that that since the judge found that fraud was committed, that the story BANANAS! tells is compromised, and therefore that the film should be be reopened. For this logic to make sense, we need to assume Judge Chaney's ruling reflects the truth. But let's put BANANAS! aside for a moment, and look at the big picture. One of the things documentarians do - often - is question the justice system. Look at THE THIN BLUE LINE, an obvious example. Errol Morris uses the film to present evidence that counters a conviction a court delivered, and ultimately, by releasing the film, Morris proves the inmate's innocence. But what if Errol had made the case for innocence in the film, but after releasing the film a judge disagreed with the evidence presented in the film? Would he be asked to recut the film to square his version of events with the judge’s? Of course not. Pushing for a recut of BANANAS! is no less absurd. You're essentially telling a documentarian (Fredrik Gertten) that a court ruling should compel him to doubt his own subjects, and re-cut his film. But Gertten, who spent over two years following his subjects, doesn’t agree with the recent ruling. The filmmaker believes that Juan Dominguez did not likely commit fraud, that the farm workers’ cases have merit, and that Judge Chaney’s ruling must be seen as a triumph of Dole’s team of paid investigators and corporate lawyers (who produced all of the evidence of the alleged fraud, using testimony gathered from anonymous witnesses). At the BANANAS! premier no one asked Gertten if he still believed in his story. When the lights went up the "case study" began with participants implicitly accepting the truth behind the new ruling from the judge, and asking Gertten how he would deal with his presumably tainted film. It would have been hard to imagine a better post-screening discussion, from Dole’s point of view – no one even mentioned the pesticide DBCP. I was bewildered, and left wondering if maybe the panelists fell into a trap, and too easily saw the Ferrari driving trial lawyer as a sleazy stereotype – a mercenary trial lawyer at best and fraudulent latino hustler at worst. One way or another, the assumption was made that Judge Chaney (and Dole) had found real fraud, and not that Juan Dominguez and filmmaker Gertten had found the real truth. The same day that Judge Chaney dismissed Juan Dominguez’s case against Dole, potentially saving Dole tens of millions of dollars in damages payable to Nicaraguan farm workers – that same day - she was nominated for a position on a state appellate court by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and removed from her role in the case. Dole is a major donor to the Governator. Hm. It doesn’t matter if it’s by questioning a past court decision, following an unfolding court case, or in the case of BANANAS!, a case that takes a turn after the film is completed, documentarians play the most crucial role when they question the official story. I'm inclined to believe that "the story" that BANANAS! tells hasn't changed a bit.