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Panama Papers film examines how journalists speak truth to power

The risky business of investigative reporting for whistleblowers and reporters is at the heart of the latest Panama Papers documentary.

The risky business of investigative reporting for whistleblowers and reporters is at the heart of the latest Panama Papers documentary.

“(I wanted) to tell a story that touched on some of the big, the really big macro issues that we’re facing and income inequality. How do journalists get the truth out and speak truth to power in these times?,” Alex Winter, the director, told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

“The overarching significance of the Panama Papers is in laying out, in clear fashion, the systematic problem of income inequality and how our economy has been built to facilitate that.”

Winter decided to turn the camera back on a few of the more than 380 reporters who worked on the investigation and help people experience “how on earth it got done.”

He traveled to Russia, Panama, Germany, London and Iceland to interview several of ICIJ’s partners who worked on the 2016 investigation. He said he was encouraged by the dedication and optimism of the reporters he met.

The film intertwines the story of these reporters with that of John Doe, who is narrated by Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood, the anonymous source of the 11.5 million documents.

“Here is your source, and you’re not going to meet in a dark alley in this day and age… that’s what makes the Panama Papers a modern story.

“It is a story that happened through the means of technology. Both the data being taken in the first place and the communication with the journalists — it also underscores the length that all the journalists had to go to maintain secrecy.”

Now, more than two years after the first stories were published, Winter said, it’s not surprising there are some naysayers who believe little has changed and little will.

McClatchy reporter Kevin Hall in the panama papers
McClatchy reporter Kevin Hall who features in the film. Image: From the Panama Papers film.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen over five years, these changes will be felt in 20 years,” he told ICIJ.

However, he did admit some changes, such as laws in the UK, were moving faster than he had expected.

“[It] is so profound, it’s going to take laws, it’s going to take referendums… we want a methodical, relatively slow, measured reform.”

Unlike his other films, Winter said he did hope people would take a message away from this one: “If they feel that income inequality and the idea of the 1 percent preventing the vast majority of the world from being able to function properly is not a major problem that they can have a hand in solving, they’ve basically been propagandized.”

The Panama Papers is just one of a slew of films about the international investigation. Steven Soderbergh is producing a drama,‘The Laundromat’, featuring Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman.

The film will premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival, which kicks off on October 4. It will also feature at Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival in D.C. on October 14.

Readers can get a 20 percent discount on tickets to view the latter by using the code PAPERSDX.

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