Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Award-winning US documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, SFF 1994; Life Itself, SFF 2014) is in top form in this captivating story of the only bank indicted following America’s 2008 financial meltdown.

The Abacus Federal Savings Bank in New York’s Chinatown is one of America’s smallest banking institutions. Shanghai-born Thomas Sung founded it in 1984 (inspired in part by Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life) to provide his community with loans, a service routinely denied by other banks.

Now 80, Thomas runs the company with the help of his three hard-working daughters. In 2010, the bank noticed irregularities in its mortgage books, and reported the matter to authorities. A lengthy legal battle ensued, driven by the New York District Attorney Office, and an eye-opening story of discrimination unfolded inside and outside of the courtroom. As the film suggests, perhaps Abacus wasn’t ‘too big to fail’, but rather, ‘small enough to jail’.

Whether bickering over dim sum or choking back tears over their latest legal setback, the Sung dynasty are pretty hard to dislike, sharing a classic second-generation immigrant credo of hard work and strong family values. – Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter

Believe it or not, Steve James has made a film about the housing crisis and financial meltdown that paints a bank and its founders as the little guy. Even that alone makes this a unique, worthwhile film. – Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com

In general the qualities of a Steve James film are that it has a highly visible and passionate social conscience; it tracks its subject over time with empathy and skill; and there’s a fly-on-the-wall Zen plainness to his approach that recalls the work of Fred Wiseman. – Owen Gleiberman, Variety


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Steve James


88 mins

English, Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles

Australian Premiere



Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman

World Sales: Cinetic Media