The recent BBC documentary on Cayman, “Britain’s Trillion Pound Island,” is a documentary insult and a journalistic mess.
The hour-long film is a mélange of beaches, bikinis and banks. Promising a deep-dive exploration into “one of the most secretive places on earth,” British journalist Jacques Peretti proceeds to take a waist-deep wade into the shallowest stereotypes of the Cayman Islands.
Armed with a camera, crew and little pre-existing knowledge apart from the phrase “tax haven,” Mr. Peretti bumbles through the country, bouncing back and forth between the idea that Cayman is bad, or else it is benign, before finally arriving at the un-startling conclusion that “Cayman is a tax haven created by Britain … But it’s much more than that.”
The documentary does have its strong points.
First, the film must be admired for its unabashed blending of fact with fiction.
No, the average four-bedroom residence in Cayman does not cost “nearly 2 million pounds.” No, you cannot be arrested in Cayman for asking questions about financial entities. No, Cayman is not “James Bond island” — that title belongs to Jamaica, where Ian Fleming wrote his famous thrillers. No, even though Mario Rankin drives a Ferrari, he is not one of the “richest men on the island.” … We could go on and on.
Second, the production value of the film is exceptional. Grand Cayman is portrayed, visually, as a beautiful place with plenty of sand, sun and surf.
Third, the list of interviewees who appear in the documentary were aptly chosen by filmmakers to suit their purposes. Whether they were looking for a flamboyant millionaire, a high-end realtor, a financially oppressed government pensioner or a taxi driver brimming with homespun wisdom — filmmakers successfully identified individual personalities to fill those roles.
In brief, the documentary is a cheap product of sensational and shoddy journalism, richened with a colorful cast of characters and aesthetically appealing cinematography.
We do not believe it was Mr. Peretti’s intention to “make Cayman look bad” — in fact, it seems like he gave key players here every opportunity to “make Cayman look good.” The failure to do so, in that regard, falls on local shoulders.
While it is fairly certain that “selective editing” may have taken place, the performances by Premier Alden McLaughlin and Governor Helen Kilpatrick, on what should have been the simplest of topics — “Justify Cayman’s existence” — were, in a word, underwhelming.
We can forgive others who appeared in the film for saying or doing things they may now regret. After all, most of them don’t make a living talking in front of cameras. Who knows what kind of cajolery the personable Mr. Peretti employed in order to make his subjects feel at ease, and who knows what footage was left on the cutting room floor?
To a lesser extent, that applies to Governor Kilpatrick, as well. After all, she is a British civil servant appointed to oversee Cayman, not cheerlead for us.
However, Premier McLaughlin’s role is different. Our premier is elected to represent the people of Cayman, and has been selected by his colleagues to represent the country as a whole. As opposed to his admirable showing on BBC’s HARDtalk in 2014, the premier appeared in this interview to be ill at ease, and apparently ill-prepared for questioning.
Before the interview, the premier’s staff should have provided him with a list of talking points and should have vetted Mr. Peretti extensively before the Q&A — preferably viewing the questions beforehand so that the premier would have his answers at the ready. He should never expose himself to “gotcha journalism,” and his staff should have insisted on securing, in writing, approval of the “final cut” of the interview. (Notorious Mexican drug kingpin “El Chapo” negotiated nothing less in his recent interview with Sean Penn of Rolling Stone magazine.)
The first question Mr. Peretti asked Premier McLaughlin was a good one — “Why have you let me in to interview you?”
Since our premier did not have a satisfactory answer to that question, it should have been the last one.