The Panama Papers is a documentary that portrays the history of the global leak that involved a now infamous legal services company based in Panama, and its activities involved in setting up offshore shell companies to help celebrities, politicians and powerful figures from around the globe, in avoiding taxes, money laundering, and other financial crimes. This issue, of global relevance since it involves sistemic corruption in the global financial system and most countries around the world, was, however, poorly explained in this movie.
Being from Argentina, I was interested in this documentary because our President was one of the many figures in Western politics mentioned in this scandal. However, as in the other cases mentioned on the movie, the movie barely makes a passing mention of the case and doesn't bother to explain it in detail. Instead of explaining, step by step, how the process of setting up an offshore company works, exactly what each politician mentioned was involved in, and what the evidence against them was (which could have helped bring transparency into this important issue), the movie wastes time (more than an hour to be precise) talking about the journalists involved, how their investigation took place, and describing their collaborative international process in combing through the evidence, in what feels like a self-congratulatory exercise. While in itself interesting, I believe me and most of the audience were more interested in the actual contents of the Panama Papers itself and not on the journalistic process which made it happen. The documentary, in my opinion, gives an undue weight on this aspect of the story. The second part, on which the arrests made in Panama are described, is more interesting, but this extends for only 20 minutes, before we are back to the journalistic side of the story again.
I also did not appreciate the cheap emotional appeals introduced in the movie from the very beginning, on which faces of ordinary people from around the world are shown, intersped with images of global wealth inequality, and with a voiceover of the manifest of "John Doe" - the leaker of the Panama Papers - describing his motivations. Some of these images are meant to tug at your heartstrings, but they extend for too long, and detract from the actual figures involved in the Papers. In some cases I found them downright misleading and manipulative, like at the very beginning, while an Argentinian journalist is talking and describes inequality in her country as one of her motivations in working as an investigative journalist, the movie shows us images of favelas in Sao Pablo, Brazil, without saying where the photos are from. (Maybe Buenos Aires was too "pretty" for the emotional appeal they were trying to convey?). I found this, describing a country while showing another, a form of emotional manipulation and it put me off the movie from the very beginning. This was also more wasted time that could have been used in doing actual journalism and informing the public on how these financial operations were carried out.
Overall, I am giving this movie a 7/10 because this is a very important global issue, and this movie is trying to raise awareness of it, so I believe it is a well-intentioned movie. Many of the points raised and the descriptions of the activities of offshore funds shown in the movie are indeed informative and relevant. But my advice is that if you are interested in the Panama Papers themselves, you will have to go to the newspapers and the databases which are publically accesible and do your own research. Sadly, an opportunity to describe and summarize properly this scandal to global audiences is somewhat lost between self-congratulatory interviews to journalists and retellings of depressing economic statistics of the world interlaced with emotionally charged pictures, that add very little to the story itself.
The Panama Papers is a very interesting movie for journalism students since it describes the process of how one of the largest global leaks in history came to be, but as a documentary on the activities of tax evasion itself, I found it a bit lacking.