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The Coca-Cola Case, produced by Johanne Bergeron for Argus Films.

2 out of 4 stars


The Coca-Cola Case

  • Written and directed by Carmen Garcia and German Gutierrez
  • Daniel Kovalik, Terry Collingsworth and Ray Rogers
  • Classification: NA

A new NFB film suggests that Coca-Cola would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony - except in South America, where it claims the company is "complicit" with paramilitary death squads that torture and murder union leaders.

The movie is badly made, meandering and overemphatic in the way of much left- or right-wing pamphleteering. For one thing, it can't stay focused. Montreal filmmakers Carmen Garcia and German Gutierrez make a very serious charge: That first in Guatemala, then Colombia, Coke's subsidiaries paid thugs to torture and murder close to 50 union organizers.

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And the film pursues that story, after a fashion, following American lawyers Daniel Kovalik and Terry Collingsworth as they attempt to sue Coke in a U.S. court, taking advantage of the Alien Tort Claims Act, a provision that allows companies to be charged in the United States when a fair trial is deemed unlikely in the country where the alleged grievances occurred.

Unfortunately, The Coca-Cola Case refuses to stay on topic, jumping at everything that makes the filmmakers mad. So we have a diatribe against Chicago college protesters - right-wing nitwits who are against anyone who would knock a U.S. company. Elsewhere, the film compares the hourly wages of Colombian workers and Coca Cola CEOs. Guess who makes more?

An investigation of the right-wing student movement in the United States or a critique of capitalism would make valid documentary inquiries, but surely they are the subjects of other films.

Still, paranoids do have enemies. And there is much in The Coca-Cola Case that makes us figure that the soft-drink giant is a bad guy here. Coke twice offers to settle with Kovalik, first offering $1-million for the American lawyer's Colombian clients to go away, then upping the offer, if the complainants agree to relinquish their union positions. These are tactics that cause anyone watching the film to go, hmmm.

While the NFB film is hardly a conclusive documentary, it frequently makes for fascinating spectator sport. The movie is stocked with fascinating types, starting with lawyer Kovalik, a well-meaning Don Quixote who seems destined to lose his head to a windmill. We see the lawyer early on at his desk, sitting in front of a Che Guevara poster. Later, in a Washington hearing, he is bombarded with questions from Foghorn Leghorn-type senators, thundering about his office decor.

Why is Che a hero? Is Kovalik a Communist?, the politicians wonder. "I was humiliated," the lawyer tells filmmakers afterward. "Now I just want to go home and see my kids."

What did he expect? Did the lawyer arrive in Washington on a load of watermelons?

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More intriguing are the Colombians Kovalik represents - proud, defiant men who turn down the fortune Coke offers them to disappear. These union organizers don't want money, they want justice. Someone to apologize and say they were wrong.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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