Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman


Director: Steve James
Producers: Mark Mitten & Julie Goldman
Cinematography: Tom Bergmann
Editors: John Farbrother & David E. Simpson
Composer: Joshua Abrams
Distributors: PBS Distribution & Frontline
Release Date: September 11, 2016
Run-time: 88 minutes

FILM SYNOPSIS: Following the 2008 financial crisis, the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges was Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the first Chinese-owned bank in New York’s Chinatown. Founded by immigrant Thomas Sung in 1984 and now run by him and his American-born daughters, the bank was accused of mortgage fraud in a legal battle that spanned five years.

Part courtroom drama, part social commentary, part character study, “Abacaus: Small Enough To Jail” dives into the life of the Sung family and delivers in all those fronts to provide a documentary that is definitely not hard to watch and that has enough going for it to keep it interesting. Although the film’s stance is fairly one-sided, leaning on the side of the Sung family being completely innocent in regards to the many counts of larceny and fraud faced against them and their bank, it is definitely not hard to see their side. First of all, they are a tiny bank and even if they were guilty of actively being involved in those charges, there were enormous banks like Goldman Sachs taking part in the same/worse activities that caused the entire financial crisis to begin with, yet they simply got a slap on the wrists and a fine to pay for their wrongdoings. This Chinatown bank was the only bank to face criminal charges in relation to the 2008 financial crisis and the real kicker is that their loan default average was actually well below most banks and the loans that were given based on false documents were actually all in good standing, actively making money for Sallie Mae, to which the loans were sold. The idea of then charging this small bank, in which they first of all face the shame of being caught up in this court battle as well as the $10 million it cost for legal fees to fight these felonies for five years is simply baffling.

Director Steve James has missed the Oscars a few times now with documentaries that were well deserving of Academy Award attention yet were simply passed up. In 2014, his much loved documentary about the late Roger Ebert, titled “Life Itself,” was left off the final list despite winning plenty of awards leading up to that. Other films like “The Interrupters” (2011) and “Head Games” (2012) were strong contenders those years but again did not make the final cut. “Hoop Dreams” did earn him a nomination for Best Film Editing, which was well deserved, but again, in the Best Documentary Feature category it was nowhere to be found. The big story of this category this year is that the critics’ darling documentary “Jane” was left off the final ballot, leaving this year pretty open, with the slight edge being placed on “Faces Places” as it too was widely loved by critics this year. But if the Academy is looking to benefit an underdog in this particular category, “Abacaus: Small Enough To Jail” would definitely be that.


1995 “Hoop Dreams” Nominated Best Film Editing


2017 “Life, Animated” Nominated Best Documentary Feature


VIEWED: Tuesday
January 23rd, 2018



Films Left Days Left

Leave a Reply