The battle between Dole Food Co. Inc. and Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten over his documentary "Bananas!" is getting juicier.

Arguments are proceeding in the defamation case over the film, which chronicles the legal battles between an L.A. plaintiff's attorney and the company over its alleged use of a banned pesticide on Nicaraguan banana plantations.

The Westlake Village fresh-food giant filed the defamation suit in Los Angeles Superior Court in July against Gertten, his production company WG Film AB and his production partner Margarete Jangard. In the suit, Dole alleges that the documentary contains false statements about the company and the banned DBCP pesticide.

Lincoln Bandlow, Gertten's attorney, asked a judge in September to dismiss the suit under a state statute that protects discussion of matters of concern to the public.

What's more, Bandlow filed a counterclaim alleging that his client is entitled to damages because Dole intentionally tried to harm Gertten by interfering with the premiere of the film in June at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

"The film doesn't make any false statements," said Bandlow, a partner in the Century City office of Lathrop & Gage LLP. "It's a fairly objective account of one trial and makes clear at the end that the conclusions of the trial have been questioned by fraud."

The documentary portrays L.A. plaintiff's attorney Juan Dominguez best known for his "Accidentes" ads on buses as a crusading lawyer who travels to Nicaragua and signs up thousands of local men who claim they were made sterile as a result of exposure to the pesticide.

However, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge found that Dominguez took part in a fraud by a network of U.S. and Nicaraguan attorneys who coached Nicaraguans to give false testimony that they had worked on Dole banana farms. The network also falsified lab reports to show the men had been made sterile by exposure to the toxic chemical.

Responding to Gertten's request to dismiss Dole's suit, the food company filed a motion last week arguing that the film fell outside the protection of the state statute because the filmmaker knew the documentary's fundamental story was false and did not contact the company to get its side of the story.

"Gertten absolutely knew that the case on which this film was based was a fraud," said Scott Edelman, a partner in the Century City office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP who is representing Dole. "He knew that at the time he released the film for distribution, but he was so enamored with the film he made that he wasn't going to take the time to change it, to correct it."


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