You can watch Abacus: Small Enough to Jail online [UPDATED}

I just discovered that the documentary that I highly praised earlier today can be viewed in its entirety at the Frontline website. I strongly recommend it. When I watched the documentary, I was surprised at the access the Sung family gave the filmmakers., allowing them to sit in on their conversations. Director Steve James discusses the making of the film and why he wanted to show so much of the family and why thinks they took that risk.

First of all, there was the story itself — the fact that they were the only U.S. bank to be criminally indicted and now were going to trial. Then, there were the particulars of how they had discovered the fraud themselves, reported it and initiated their own internal investigation, and been very cooperative, until they realized they were the target of the investigation. It all seemed kind of just unbelievable. But I think the part that sealed it for me, clearly, and made me want to do it, was meeting the family — taking my measure of them as people, and their absolute belief that they were innocent. Everything about them made me think that there’s a story there.

I think they agreed to do this for larger reasons than just that their family was on trial, and they felt that maybe in some ways this could help clear their name. I think they felt, really, that their community was on trial, as Don Lee, the activist, says in the film at one point. There was a larger purpose in agreeing to the film and a larger purpose in defending the bank. I think all of those things contributed to them being willing to let us in in the way that they did.

We’ve also had so many people come up afterwards to express their thanks for us telling what they realize now is an important story. And we’ve had a lot of Chinese-American viewers, and other Asian-American viewers, come up and say, “Thank you for this portrait of this family — there aren’t enough of these stories.” We’ve heard that time and time again at screenings.

I think that this really is a story of the unequal application of justice in America. What separates it from many stories of people who find themselves in that situation is that the Sungs are not poor. In this case, you have a family that has the wherewithal to defend themselves and the will to defend themselves. I think that there’s a lot to be taken from the film in seeing the fight that they put up on their behalf, and on their community’s behalf.

I think the deeply personal story of this family and their determination to clear their names is what distinguishes this film from the other films about the financial crisis.



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