Stitch LA‘s Weston Cadwell has cut his first feature, The Panama Papers for director Alex Winter. This documentary focuses on the coordination of journalists from around the world, working in secret to expose the largest data leak in history. This was a global corruption scandal involving fraudulent 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.
Stitch became involved in the film through Dan Swietlik, owner and editor of Stitch LA, who worked with Winter on the feature documentary, Deep Web (2015).
“Alex had a short film project, Relatively Free in 2016. He came to Dan and I worked on the film as a second editor,” explains Weston. “Alex and I worked closely together in the edit bay. I really got to know him, how he works and I think we collaborate really well.
“I cut a short film with him a year later, Trump Lobby (2017) and then Alex came to us with the feature film and requested me as the sole editor. This would be my first feature film, so I was nervous to take it on but was honored to have the opportunity.”
For this film, there was a huge amount of archive footage to get through, including news bytes, conferences and speeches related to income inequality, shell companies, tax loopholes and similar. There were a lot of topics and themes to cover, and Weston had to be fully educated and immersed in these fields.
Given the amount of footage in the project, the role of the editor and his relationship with the director, was of particular importance. “I had my team. I mean, I have a production company, with researchers, archivists, production coordinators and so on, and we all kind of worked as a hive mind,” says Winter. “Really, a doc is made mostly by me and the editor, so, I was working very closely with Wes. This was an extremely complicated story, with many disparate elements and characters to weave together, and he did an incredible job, not only helping to make the film comprehensible but also emotional and dramatic”
“One of the challenges was just figuring out how we wanted to tell the story, there were a lot of moving parts to the journalists investigation, so we wanted to keep it simple and linear so the viewer could easily follow,” says Weston.
“I found it interesting that we kept our project secret the same way the journalists had to keep their investigation secret for a whole year while they uncovered everything.”
The film premiered internationally at the IDFA film festival last month and is streaming in the US on Epix.