The Scottish Documentary Institute was lucky to have Bart Simpson in town for a masterclass. Of course I’m talking about the Canadian producer (and now also director) of documentary films. I first came across his work with The Corporation. The film won many awards at festivals including Sundance, Toronto, and IDFA.
Then taking that obsession with corporations further, he followed that first knockout with another international success, co-producing Bananas!* directed by Fredrik Gertten. The film follows the story of a U.S. lawyer taking the Dole Food Company to court on behalf of workers in Nicaragua, who accuse the company of having knowingly poisoned them with a toxic pesticide. The film was due to have its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2009, when Dole ramped up and issued a cease-and-desist order against Gertten. At first, the festival was resilient, but when Dole's lawyers sent documents to the festival's key sponsors as well as the festival itself, they got cold feet and pulled the film from competition.
Following this lawsuit from Dole Food Company, Bart was featured in the sequel Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, which tells the story of the filmmakers becoming victims of malice on Dole's part. It may well be one of the scariest stories in documentary history. It didn't seem to matter that Dole was proven guilty in the courts. People found it easier to question the credibility of a filmmaker than believe Dole was not only negligent, but orchestrating a campaign to shut up the filmmakers and make people question the filmmaker’s integrity.
But thank goodness Big Boys Gone Bananas!* was presented a few weeks ago at IDFA and Sundance and once again rightfully acclaimed.
What the filmmakers ended up uncovering is nothing less than the bizarre, big-money game of illusion and political power that essentially sets the public agenda all over the world, making the film meaningful beyond the story a filmmaker being taken to court.
Now it seems that Bart is recovering from that nasty experience by shifting his beady eye as a director on the city of Brasilia. He may be looking at architecture and urban planning, but he's really thinking about people and their fight to impose their human will onto a city that was built and planned omitting residents' needs. Over the next few months, Bart will creatively explore Certeau‘s concept of “space being a practiced place”. All of these actions are rather invisible – another challenge to the language of documentary.