Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
2018 Academy Award® Nominee: Best Documentary Feature
From acclaimed director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters, Life Itself), Abacus: Small Enough to Jail tells the incredible saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York. Accused of mortgage fraud by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Abacus becomes the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The indictment and subsequent trial forces the Sung family to defend themselves – and their bank’s legacy in the Chinatown community – over the course of a five-year legal battle.
In 1984 Thomas Sung Sung opened Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a small community bank in the heart of Chinatown whose mission was to cater directly to the needs of the Chinese immigrant community. It has come to be seen as a cornerstone of the Chinatown community, helping many residents buy homes and start businesses.
A small, fiscally conservative bank, Abacus was able to weather the 2008 economic implosion that nearly wrecked the world economy. Institutions with vast holdings like JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and HBSC, all participated in massive mortgage fraud that they plotted and maintained until the whole scheme fell apart in catastrophic fashion. And yet not a single one of these banks has ever been criminally indicted or prosecuted. In fact, the American taxpayers bailed out these banks because they were deemed “too-big-to-fail.”
Only one bank was ever prosecuted for mortgage fraud: Abacus Federal Savings Bank.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail asks fundamental questions about what the purpose of a bank should be in a community – especially an immigrant community – and whether the prosecution of this small financial institution has much larger implications for the role of banks in our society.
NOMINEE – STEVE JAMES, OUTSTANDING DIRECTING Directors Guild of America Awards
WINNER - BEST POLITICAL DOCUMENTARY Critics' Choice Documentary Awards
THREE NOMINATIONS Critics' Choice Documentary Awards
NOMINEE - BEST DOCUMENTARY National Board of Review
NOMINEE - BEST DOCUMENTARY Chicago Film Critics Association