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Dole sues "Bananas" documentary maker

By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Dole Food Company Inc filed a defamation lawsuit on Wednesday against Swedish film makers it accuses of knowingly including "patent falsehoods" in a documentary about Nicaraguan banana workers who sued Dole for allegedly exposing them to pesticides on its plantations.

Dole said it repeatedly "implored" director Fredrik Gertten and producer Margarete Jangard to revise the film "Bananas!*" to show that the bananeros' lawsuits against Dole were thrown out in April by a Los Angeles judge who found a "pervasive conspiracy" to defraud U.S. courts by plaintiffs attorneys and Nicaraguan judges.

Gertten "refused to make any meaningful changes to the film, and persisted in publicly screening it and touting its accuracy in the face of court rulings that the story was false ...," said the suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

"To screen, promote, and profit from this film, despite the fact that its entire premise has been (judged) a fraud on Dole and California's courts, is the epitome of reckless and irresponsible conduct."

Attorney Richard Lee, who represents defendant WG Film AB, said he and his client found the complaint "to be without merit" and an attempt at prior restraint

"Dole is attempting to keep a part of the long story of misuse of pesticides by multinational corporations from being told," Lee said. "We will respond appropriately in court."

Gertten could not immediately be reached for comment.

In a July 1 letter posted on a website promoting the film, Gertten described Dole's demands as "blatant intimidation" and said the company "attacked the film without seeing it."

The film chronicles a "David versus Goliath" struggle by U.S. plaintiffs attorney Juan Dominguez to bring what he says in the film are the first ever claims by third-world farm workers in U.S. courts.

"I do not like when other people are exploited ... I never like the big guy picking (on) the little guy," Dominguez says in the trailer.

The film was first screened in June, over Dole's objections, at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

"Bananas!*" concludes with Dominguez winning a $2.5 million punitive damages verdict on behalf of five Nicaraguan plaintiffs, but leaves out what happened next, the suit said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney threw out that award and some claims, cut down other damages awarded by a jury, then threw out two of Dominguez's pending cases.

Chaney found that medical evidence and some plaintiffs' proof of employment had been forged. She ruled that Dominguez and others had run a large-scale operation to recruit men who had never worked on Dole plantations to act as plaintiffs and had coached them in how to testify.

The judge referred Dominguez and other attorneys to states' bar associations and to prosecutorial agencies.

Film Independent officials warned the audience before the film's only two screenings that, "there seems to be a little question that the version of reality that the film portrays does not match the reality that emerged in the courtroom."

But FIND officials said they decided to screen the film despite the threat of litigation from Dole as, "a case study of what makes (and doesn't make) a responsible documentary."

The lawsuit says the film is set for wide release to movie theaters in October.

(Reporting by Gina Keating; editing by Andre Grenon)

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