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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“Roger Ebert claimed that the re-editing of The Brown Bunny after Cannes allowed him a difference of opinion so vast that he first called it the worst film in history and eventually gave it a thumbs up. This is both far fetched and an outright lie. The truth is, unlike the many claims that the unfinished film that showed at Cannes was 24 minutes shorter than the finished film, it was only 8 minutes shorter. The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary. The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many. I shortened the opening race scene once I was able to do so digitally. After rewatching the last 4 minutes of the film over and over again, somewhere within those 4 minutes, I froze the picture and just ended the film there, cutting out everything after that point, which was about 3 minutes. Originally in the salt flats scene, the motorcycle returned from the white. I removed the return portion of that shot, which seemed too literal. And I cut a scene of me putting on a sweater. That’s pretty much it. Plus the usual frame here, frame there, final tweaks. If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa. Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra. Stuck with a brutal, dismissive review of a film that other, more serious critics eventually felt differently about. He also took attention away from what he actually did at the press screening. It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes. His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film. Afterwards, at the first public screening, booing, laughing and hissing started during the open credits, even before the first scene of the film. The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped. To make things weirder, I got a record-setting standing ovation from the supporters of the film who were trying to show up the distractors who had been disrupting the film. It was not the cut nor the film itself that drew blood. It was something suspicious about me. Something offensive to certain ideologues.”
~ Vincent Gallo

“I think [technology has[ its made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, ‘Now what? Now what do I have to say?'”
~ Jodie Foster