Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Doc Stars of the Month: The Sung Family, 'Abacus: Small Enough to Jail'

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail - which has been garnering accolades on the festival circuit ever since its Toronto debut, and was the opening night flick at this year's Full Frame Documentary Film Festival - is equal parts riveting and rage-inducing. Master documentarian Steve James's latest film lays bare the five-year legal drama of the Sung family, Chinese immigrant owners of (NYC) Chinatown’s Abacus Federal Savings Bank, which was accused of mortgage fraud by the limelight-seeking Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., rendering this community-serving, family-owned-and-operated shop the sole US bank to face criminal charges in the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis. (And despite, ironically, having one of the lowest default rates in the country. Indeed, Fannie Mae even continued to do business with Abacus after the indictment!)

So needless to say, it was a privilege for me to chat collectively by email with this heroic and tight-knit family of six (Abacus founder and patriarch Thomas; his wife, Hwei Lin; and daughters Vera, Jill - both bank executives - Chanterelle and Heather) prior to the film's opening at NYC's IFC Center on May 19 through PBS Distribution.


To read the interview visit Documentary Magazine.

Monday, May 15, 2017

“The Film Gives Viewers Plenty to be Angry About…”: Steve James on Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Steve James’ documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, is at once a heartfelt portrait of a close-knit family facing overwhelming adversity and an infuriating indictment of our U.S. justice system gone seriously awry. The film follows the Chinese immigrant Sung family, founding owners and operators of the Abacus Federal Savings Bank down in NYC’s Chinatown, who in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis found themselves locked in a half-decade battle with spotlight-loving Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. Though the bank had one of the lowest default rates in the country (with only nine out of 3,000 loans defaulting!), the overzealous prosecutor nevertheless decided to pursue charges — giving the low-income-community-serving institution the dubious distinction of being the one and only bank indicted for mortgage fraud in the fallout.


To read my interview with the legendary Hoop Dreams director visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fighting the Power at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival’s 20th Anniversary

Injustice seemed to be a running theme during the 20th anniversary edition of the always-stellar Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (April 6-9) down in Durham, NC.

Which seemed quite fitting since the state had recently repealed the morally and economically loathsome bathroom bill – while still leaving LGBTQ folks open to discrimination statewide. (And leaving cynical lawmakers to pat themselves on the back for making that NCAA deadline in the knick of time.) So if fighting the powers-that-be is your thing, here are four alternately inspiring and infuriating docs I caught – and you should keep an eye out for in 2017.


To read my list visit Global Comment.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Conversation With Reggie Watts

The German-born, Montana-raised son of a French mother and an African-American father, Reggie Watts’s worldliness seems bred into his genes. So it should probably come as no surprise that this much-lauded comedian and musician – his latest Reggie Watts: Spatial recently hit Netflix to rave reviews – once used a foreign land to form the basis of a theatrical collaboration.

Produced in partnership with writer/director Tommy Smith, Dutch A/V is a “live-edited environmental film” culled from over 26 hours of footage shot through spyglasses, immersing the viewer in the sights and sounds of Holland. Recipient of the MAP Fund Award, Dutch A/V was work-shopped at IRT Theatre, debuted at the Under the Radar festival back in 2011 – and currently can be sampled on YouTube (I urge all Watts fans to check it out!)



To read my blast-from-the-past chat visit Hammer to Nail.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

“We Need to Stop Patting Ourselves on the Back”: Speakeasy Spotlight at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival’s 20th Anniversary Edition

There was much reason for celebration at the 2017 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (April 6-9) down in Durham, North Carolina. The state had just (kinda sorta) repealed the ridiculous bathroom bill – which had had me scrambling to cover all the queer films I could find at the 2016 fest – and this year’s 20th anniversary inspired artistic director Sadie Tillery to create “DoubleTake,” a wide-ranging retro program featuring 19 films, one from each year. This diverse selection included everything from Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen’s 2001 Benjamin Smoke, to Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras’s 2003 Flag Wars, to Gary Hustwit’s 2007 Helvetica, and more.

But the one aspect of the fest that most surprised and thrilled me were the forward-thinking – and always free and open to the public – A&E IndieFilms Speakeasy panel conversations, which the festival has been hosting for the past seven years (and which provide a nice intimate break from the rock concert lines for the often sold-out films — these are some rabid doc audiences down in Durham!).


To read all about 'em visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Conversation with Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya (THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS)

One of the standout films I caught at this year’s 19th RiverRun International Film Festival (March 30-April 9) was Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya’s The Cinema Travellers, at once a love letter to movie-going and a gorgeous portrait of a dying art (not to mention a 2016 Cannes award-winner). The duo follow three men – a showman, an exhibitor and a projector technician – as they struggle to continue the 70-year tradition of bringing cinema caravans to rural India. Satellite TVs be damned! Or as the gentle and wise projector fixer puts it, “Life is not just a game of machines, but a game of the imagination.”


To read my interview visit Hammer to Nail.