In this era where the term “fake news” is in vogue, a documentary like “The Panama Papers” provides a refreshing example of journalism at its smartest and most courageous.
Premiering tonight on EPIX, the 100-minute film from director Alex Winter (“Deep Web”) tells the story of an international group of reporters who pooled efforts and resources to expose a massive global corruption scandal wherein the rich, powerful and famous could hide their cash from government authorities through the establishment of shell corporations and thus evade taxes.
And, it turns out, the amount of cash not going into the public kitty – in 200 countries worldwide – is pretty staggering, in the trillions of dollars, in fact; money that could be spent on infrastructure, health care and education, for instance.
And it all started with a whistleblower named John Doe, who leaked data from the Panamanian law firm that set up the shell corporations for heads of state, elected officials, dictators, cartel bosses, business leaders, celebrities and athletes from around the world.
“This broad, global, team-oriented investigative work is absolutely exactly what's needed right now,” explains Winter, “and these are exactly the kinds of stories that need to be broken. And in this age of fake news where you have pushback – you know, what is fake news? Fake news is a term that is coined by corrupt actors in order to keep attention off of themselves. That's literally what it is.
“So to me, this is a film that shows you, OK, these are the people who are making the kind of news that is threatening to all kinds of corrupt actors. And it's not partisan. You have as many people on the left that are guilty in the Panama Papers leak as you do on the right.”
Indeed, this was delicate work for the reporters who worked on the story with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and they had to take great care to keep their efforts under wraps, lest they upset the wrong people.
And for good reason: Since the story broke in 2016, some have had their lives threatened and a few, most notably Maltese journalist Daphne Galizia, were assassinated.