Q&A with Michael Oswald, director of The Spider’s Web

The Spider’s Web, Britain’s Second Empire is a thoroughly researched, well-crafted and documentary by Michael Oswald that explores the history of Britain’s tax havens and the system that encouraged their creation rooted in its colonial history. The documentary is freely available on Youtube. We caught up with Michael for a Q and A.

What motivated you to direct a documentary about this topic? Who are you hoping this expose will reach in particular?

I looked at documentaries about tax havens and financial secrecy and there seemed to be two kinds of documentaries on the topic. One type would feature a strong narrative but would lack an explanation of the underlying system, the viewer would be left none the wiser and with an impression that there was nothing really wrong with the system itself, next time you watch a documentary on dirty Russian money consider that Russian and Ukrainian money makes up only 0.2% of the money that flows through British tax havens. The second type of documentary would explain how the system worked but would lack narrative structure. I felt there was room for a documentary that explained how the system worked and followed a narrative structure. Britain and its dependent territories are the ideal candidates for such a documentary, The Spider’s Web explains why that is the case.
A retired MI6 spook attended a number of the early screenings of the documentary, and in the post screening Q&A he would always ask precisely the same question: "Why highlight Britain, why not focus on Hong Kong and China." And the answer to that question is of course the overwhelming role that the UK plays in this area. There is only one country snapping at the UK’s heels and that is not China, it is the US. To me it is bizarre that the UK can play such a major role in this area without attracting significant attention to itself, I hope the documentary will help to rectify that deficiency.