The Coca-Cola Case: A Review

By Hannah E. Dobbz

Think about the difficulty in making a documentary film about a thing that you can neither show nor legally talk about. The action is too clandestine to be caught on camera, and all authorities refuse to be interviewed. The entire would-be content of the film is guarded so securely that the individuals appearing in the film risk penalties for even speaking about it – penalties that are themselves kept secret.

Filmmakers Carmen Garcia and Germán Gutiérrez faced this dilemma in the making of their documentary film The Coca-Cola Case.

The Coca-Cola Case is like the cinematic arm of the Stop Killer Coke campaign – an activist group that broadcasts the abuses of Colombian Coca-Cola employees, emphasizing the systematic assassinations of SINALTRAINAL union leaders since 1992.

The content sounds compelling: power, murder, money and lies. But the 84-minute film clocks in at about 64 minutes too long for what the filmmakers are actually able to show. The near hour and a half is spent mostly following the conversations of human-rights lawyer Dan Kovalik and Stop Killer Coke activist Ray Rogers, from which audiences glean the same information that they could have read in Left Turn magazine in 2004.

If the story seems dry to viewers, however, it’s only because it legally has to be.

Despite the humdrum footage, the film is still exactly what it claims to be: The Coca-Cola Case is about litigation against Coke in U.S. courts. Unfortunately, litigation is boring – at least on camera.

Ironically, the best part of the story is not in the film, but rather about the film. The Coca-Cola Company got so nervous about the release of this documentary that it threatened legal action to ensure that the film reached the minimum number of viewers.

The film itself was produced in Canada, insulating it somewhat from threats by the U.S.-based company, which has sent representatives to college screenings to dispel the film’s accusations while promoting their product.

Garcia and Gutiérrez capture in their film one such college campus counter-protest organized by Coke. In this scene, a student carrying a life-size sign that reads “Fuck Human Rights” inarticulately asserts that the actions of Coca-Cola are of no consequence due to the “invisible hand” of the free market. And besides, he explains, he just likes drinking Coke.

The screening that I attended at Pittsburgh University did not stir up such brouhaha. It was rumored that a Coke representative was in the audience, but, if this was true, the person was never identified. When only a handful of people stayed for the Skype discussion with Ray Rogers after the show, it suggested to me that maybe Coca-Cola is overreacting just a tad.

Coke may be paranoid to work for the suppression of this film, but it is thanks to this type of muscle flexing that they are still winning. The United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund have been trying to sue on behalf of SINALTRAINAL since 2001, but the cases keep getting thrown out because Coca-Cola has oodles of money to spend that nobody else does.

If nothing else, it is flattery to the filmmakers for this monolithic corporation to act as though it doesn’t already have the world bought and sold.

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