By Ray Pride

Docs on Box: “Abacus: Small Enough To Jail” and “100-Year-Old Lovebirds”

Deceptively minor-key Steve James, Abacus: Small Enough To Jail is best in moments that add up to an intent portrait of the family fissures in a case on the sidelines of the 2008 financial crisis. The Chinese immigrant Sung family’s six-branch Abacus Federal Savings in New York City’s Chinatown was the only bank to be criminally charged (for loan fraud and 200 other alleged violations), an indictment and trial across five years that required the bank—and its founding family—to defend the bank’s standing in the community, as well as to redeem themselves. Founder Thomas Sung has an unlikely figure from whom he drew inspiration: George Bailey in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, who believed in building community through investing in the homes and businesses of Bedford Falls. Portraying the drawn-out trial, so many socioeconomic factors and issues are introduced, discussed, argued. Larger implications abound.

The nineteen charged employees crossed boundaries, but were the higher-ups, the Sungs, aware of what was done in their name? The saga comes back to the Sungs, making the movie less concerned with fiscal maneuverings and misprisions of prosecutorial zeal than family, with an underlying current of institutional racism. James excels at drawing out the dynamics of extended families under stress (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) and Abacus is no exception. Premieres on Frontline, Tuesday, September 12.

My Love, Don’t Cross That River

Byeong-man Jo and Kang Gye-Yeol have been together for seventy-six years. In the sublime My Love, Don’t Cross That River, a huge success in South Korea, writer-director-cinematographer Mo-young Jin watches the “101-old lovebirds” (as the 98-year-old Byeong-man Jo and his wife, the 89-year-old Kang Gye-Yeol are dubbed) for just over a year as they move through their day in traditional Korean raiment, inseparable from first light to final dark. At first, they are almost unbearably adorable. But sentiment surpasses sentimentality. Jin’s canny observation and cutting goes beneath the surface and into the bloodstream. What could have been in many hands autumnal sap or old-folks-sploitation is instead a document of the day-to-day tenderness of a long-lasting, even lifelong bond few couples experience in any culture. The ending, which we are prepared for in the sere, winter-set opening, is a thundercrack, earned, true, heartbreaking. Time stops. Time goes on. There is weeping. Premieres on POV in September; streaming here

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“TIFF doesn’t make attendance numbers for its Lightbox screenings publicly available, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many filmgoers the Lightbox is attracting (or how much money it’s bringing in). But the King Street West venue hasn’t become a significant draw for film enthusiasts. The Lightbox’s attendance has plunged – 49,000 fewer visitors last year, a drop of 27 per cent, according to figures recently reported in the Toronto Star. Its gallery space – designed to showcase the visions of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers – saw most of its exhibitions staff quietly axed this past fall. And its marketing barely escapes the Lightbox’s walls. Unless you are a TIFF member or one of the city’s most avid filmgoers, you could walk by the Lightbox and remain blissfully unaware of a single thing that goes on inside. TIFF “still has a world-class brand,” said Barry Avrich, a filmmaker and former board member, “but it’s going to take some fresh vision from retail, consumer programming and marketing experts, given how the lines have become intensely blurred when it comes to how people watch film. They will have to experiment with programming to find the right blend of function and relevance.”
~ Globe & Mail Epic On State of Toronto Int’l (paywalled)

“I’m 87 years old… I only eat so I can smoke and stay alive… The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there’s nothing. Like there was before I was born. I’m not really into religion, they’re all macrocosms of the ego. When man began to think he was a separate person with a separate soul, it created a violent situation.

“The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness.

“Anybody else you’ve interviewed bring these things up? Hang on, I gotta take this call… Hey, brother. That’s great, man. Yeah, I’m being interviewed… We’re talking about nothing. I’ve got him well-steeped in nothing right now. He’s stopped asking questions.”
~ Harry Dean Stanton