Documentary Showcase
Special Explorations in nonfiction filmmaking

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
USA, 2016, 88 min., Color, English, Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles

In 2012, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. filed charges against a bank related to the mortgage crisis. But the bank wasn't one of the "too big to fail" giants that needed taxpayer rescue. It was a modest Chinatown institution called Abacus Federal Savings Bank that never sought a bailout, but was "small enough to jail." They were the only domestic bank to be criminally indicted in the wake of 2008, yet this important story was scarcely known outside New York's Chinatown community.

Sung was the model of the American dream. After succeeding as a lawyer, he witnessed bigger banks reject his fellow Chinese immigrants for loans. So he opened Abacus, taking inspiration from Jimmy Stewart's character in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Among the pleasures of this film is observing the humour and family bonds of the Sungs as they plot court strategy over meals in Chinatown restaurants. On the other side of the case, James interviews the prosecutors, including Vance. Was their motive to serve justice or to find a financial-industry scapegoat?

ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL marries an engrossing David and Goliath story with an important truth about immigrant community institutions: they may often be small, but they're no pushovers.

— Toronto International Film Festival
Steve James
Tom Bergmann
John Farbrother, David E. Simpson

Director Bio

Steve James is an American producer and director of documentary films. In 1984, his critically acclaimed documentary feature HOOP DREAMS was nominated for an Academy Award. Other notable works include STEVIE (2002), THE INTERRUPTERS (2011) and the award-winning documentary feature, LIFE ITSELF (2014), on the life and career of renowned film critic and social commentator, Roger Ebert. Steve James was a Dallas Star Award Honoree at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival. ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL is James’s latest documentary feature.
Screenings Co-presented by:
Asian Film Festival Dallas
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