Director Alex Winter Previews his new EPIX Documentary “The Panama Papers”[Exclusive]
The Panama Papers strikes at the heart of the biggest themes of our times; income inequality, whistleblowers and corrupt power-brokers manipulating world governments and big business.
The Panama Papers details the unprecedented coordination of journalists from around the world working in secret, at great personal risk, to expose the largest data leak in history: a global corruption scandal involving corrupt power brokers, the uber rich, elected officials, dictators, cartel bosses, athletes and celebrities who had used the Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca to hide their money. The story cracked open a hidden network of tax evasion, fraud, cronyism, bribing government officials, rigging elections, and murder.
I had the chance to speak exclusively with director Alex Winter about why he wanted to make the film, why it plays like a thriller and how these tax evasions impact all citizens directly.
TV GOODNESS: I remember hearing about the Panama Papers when this story first broke, but I felt like I learned so much from this documentary. What made you want to make this film?
Alex Winter: “I think you just said it. A lot of people knew the term ‘Panama Papers.’ I think they had a vague idea, speaking for the general public, of what it uncovered. Some people got a very thorough idea, because the journalism and the reporting was exceptional.
I think there was a large portion of the public that still didn’t quite have their arms wrapped around it. Two things really made me want to make it. One was I felt it was very important to really distill the core implications of what the story meant and its significance and its direct impact on the average citizen. And then I also thought there was an extraordinary human story at the center of it, which was so many journalists.
Hundreds and hundreds of journalists around the world working together regardless of having competing outlets, in total secrecy — which is very, very hard — to break the story. I thought it would make a great doc because you had a really good thematic story, the bigger story. But you had a really interesting and emotional interpersonal story, as well. It’s the story of the journalists.”
TV GOODNESS: This felt like a thriller, in some ways. A lot of it did put me on the edge of my seat because I couldn’t remember if anything broke before it was supposed to. I was trying to rack my brain and remember how it all happened. It was an effective way to tell the story. Did you purposely do that?
Winter: “Yes. I come from narratives: filmmaking and storytelling.
I like making docs that don’t feel like they’re informational or just a tribute to something. As a movie, [it] has a compelling emotional journey that it takes you on and really allows you to feel like you’re experiencing something directly.
We very much constructed this like a political thriller. That informed everything, from the way that we shot it, to the music, to how we mixed it, to how to fill the film with structure. Absolutely. That was the intent.”
TV GOODNESS: You talk about how income equality is one of the defining issues of our time. When I think about where politics is, especially in the US right now, I’m not sure people fully understand what that means. How did you make sure that that was something you hit on in the film?
Winter: “I don’t like the type of movies that just keep hammering home an idea or a theme. That being said, I intended to hammer home that idea and theme. [Laughs.]
In the film we really do repeatedly express and clarify why this matters to the average citizen. This is not just wealthy people not paying as much tax as they should, but literally siphoning your money, your resources, your ability to have clean drinking water, your ability to have healthcare, your ability to have a proper education and roads that work.
It really was a titanic act of theft from you, not just from the government. That was a really important point that I wanted to drive home. We found lots of ways, some direct and some sneaky, to get that point across.”
Here’s a clip from the film:
The Panama Papers premieres Monday, November 26th at 6 pm ET on EPIX. Part 2 of my exclusive Q&A will be up after the film premieres.
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