Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Winner of the 2017 Critics’ Choice Documentary Award for Best Political Documentary!


FRONTLINE will present the broadcast premiere of Abacus: Small Enough to Jail on September 12, 2017 — the little-known story of the only U.S. bank prosecuted in relation to the 2008 financial crisis. Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) chronicles the Chinese immigrant Sung family’s fight to clear their names in his latest film, one of the past year’s most critically acclaimed documentaries during its robust international film festival run and a national theatrical release. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a Mitten Media, Motto Pictures and Kartemquin Films Production for WGBH/FRONTLINE and Independent Television Service (ITVS). Co-presented with the Center for Asian American Media.


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.

Read CAAM’s Q&A with Director Steve James.



Hong Kong International Film Festival, Apr 14 & 22, 2017 (Asian Premiere)

Sarasota Film Festival, Apr 1 & 3, 2017
Freep Film Festival, Apr 1, 2017
Wisconsin Film Festival, Mar 31 & Apr 1, 2017


Steve James


Steve James produced and directed Hoop Dreams, winner of every major critics prize as well as a Peabody and Robert F. Kennedy Award. Other award-winning films include Stevie, winner of the Sundance Film Festival Cinematography Award, IDFA Grand Jury Prize and the Yamagata Mayor’s Prize, among others; the Independent Documentary Association Award-winning miniseries The New Americans; Tribeca Film Festival Grand Prize winner The War Tapes, which James produced and edited; At the Death House Door, co-directed with Peter Gilbert, and winner of numerous festival awards; No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson for ESPN’s Peabody winning “30 for 30” series; and The Interrupters, which won an Emmy, Independent Spirit Award and the DuPont Columbia Journalism Award, among others. James’ most recent film, Life Itself, was named the best documentary of the year by over a dozen critics associations, Rotten Tomatoes, the Critics’ Choice Awards, the National Board of Review, and the Producers Guild of America. Most recently, Life Itself was nominated for Emmy awards for Best Documentary and Outstanding Editing: Documentary and Long Form.

Mark Mitten


Mark Mitten is an award-winning producer who has created a variety of media and entertainment projects. Before producing Abacus: Small Enough To Jail, Mark served as executive producer and co-producer on the Roger Ebert documentary, Life Itself, and has worked as a television producer. He also served as the chief brand officer for Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid where he made over 30 short films, after which he directed, co-wrote and produced the documentary, Making Big Plans: The Story of Chicago’s Olympic Dream. Prior to producing, Mitten was a partner at McKinsey & Company, where he provided strategic consulting to Fortune 100 companies.

Julie Goldman


Julie Goldman founded Motto Pictures in 2009. She is an Emmy Award-winning producer and executive producer of documentary feature films. Goldman is producer of Life, Animated and executive producer of Weiner, both of which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. She is executive producer of 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets and Best of Enemies, both of which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and were shortlisted for the 2016 Academy Award. Goldman produced Indian Point, which premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, and executive produced The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, both theatrically released in 2016. She also executive produced The Kill Team and Art and Craft, both shortlisted for the 2015 Academy Award. Goldman produced three films that premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival: Gideon’s Army, Manhunt and the Oscar shortlisted God Loves Uganda.

Tom Bergmann


German-born Tom Bergmann is an acclaimed director of photography for documentaries, narrative and experimental films with more than 30 documentary shorts and features to his credit. Among the many film festivals in which his award-winning projects have screened are IDFA, Clermont Ferrand Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Hot Docs, Aspen Film Festival, and Cannes Golden Lion. His recent documentary work includes the acclaimed Life, Animated, directed by Roger Ross Williams, which won the 2016 Sundance award for Best Directing. Most recently, Bergmann worked with director Eugene Jarecki on his new film Promised Land (WT) and with Oscar-nominated director and writer David France on his new documentary Marsha & Sylvia (WT). He also regularly collaborates with the German filmmaker André Hoermann with whom he has made more than a dozen films.

John Farbrother


John Farbrother is an editor whose work has aired on Discovery, History Channel, National Geographic, and CNBC. Farbrother’s first feature documentary, Siskel/Jacobs Productions’ Louder Than a Bomb, won the 2011 Humanitas Prize and garnered 17 film festival prizes, 10 of them audience awards. Louder Than a Bomb was one of Roger Ebert’s top 10 documentaries of 2011. Among his other editing credits are numerous documentary shorts and short films, including The 5:22, winner of the Prix Panavision Grand Prize for Best American Short Film at the 2007 Avignon Film Festival. As a producer, Farbrother has received three Chicago/Midwest Regional Emmys for short documentaries he also edited.

David E. Simpson


David E. Simpson, a producer, director and editor, has crafted award-winning films for over twenty-five years. Recently, he edited Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, which premiered at Sundance 2016; and served as co-director/co-editor on Hard Earned, a duPont-Columbia award-winning series on getting by in America. Simpson’s first feature-length documentary, When Billy Broke His Head, garnered a jury prize at Sundance, a duPont-Columbia baton and dozens of other awards. He has since directed nationally broadcast documentaries that include Refrigerator Mothers, Halsted Street USA and Milking the Rhino. Simpson’s editing credits include the Emmy-nominated Life Itself; the Kartemquin Films projects A Good Man, Terra Incognita, Vietnam Long Time Coming, and The New Americans. He has also edited films for PBS’ Nova and Frontline, and an episode of The People’s Century for BBC/PBS.

Joshua Abrams


Joshua Abrams developed his voice in the rich ferment of the 1990s Chicago music world, participating heavily across the city’s jazz, experimental and rock scenes. He co-founded the “back porch minimalist” band Town & Country and, with Matana Roberts and Chad Taylor, the trio Sticks & Stones. In a very busy two decades Abrams recorded and toured with a remarkable range of artists including extended engagements with Fred Anderson, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Hamid Drake, Theaster Gates, Neil Michael Hagerty, Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Mike Reed, Matana Roberts, The Roots, and Simon Starling.  Abrams appears on over one hundred recordings. As a film composer, Abrams has scored the music for five feature-length films including the award-winning documentaries Life Itself, The Interrupters and The Trials of Muhammad Ali. His album “Magnetoception” was picked by The Wire as the #3 record of 2015 and by Pitchfork as the #2 experimental album of the year. Both Cinema Eye Honors and The Georgia Film Critics Association nominated him for best score of 2014 for his work on Life Itself.

Gordon Quinn


Gordon Quinn is the co-founder and artistic director of Kartemquin Films. He has been producing documentaries and mentoring filmmakers for five decades. A passionate advocate for independent media makers, Quinn is a noted expert on issues of fair use, ethics, and storytelling in documentary. He received the International Documentary Association’s 2015 Career Achievement Award for his services to the industry. He has received awards in his career from the Directors Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, the Emmys, and the Sundance Film Festival, among several others.

Betsy Steinberg


Betsy Steinberg joined Kartemquin Films as executive director in December 2015 and oversees daily operations, development, and serves as executive producer on Kartemquin projects. Prior to Kartemquin she spent eight years as Managing Director of the Illinois Film Office where she was instrumental in the passage of the Illinois film tax credit and implemented an overall business development strategy resulting in over $1 billion in direct economic impact. During her tenure, the state broke all local film industry revenues in 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013 and the Illinois Film Office was recognized by the Illinois Arts Alliance with an Arts Advocate Award and Cinema Chicago’s Golden Hugo. Before her work at the film office, Steinberg served as vice president of business development for Towers Productions developing documentary specials and series for networks such as A&E, History, Discovery and National Geographic.

Christopher Clements


Christopher Clements is a partner at Motto Pictures. Clements is executive producer of Weiner and co-producer of Life, Animated, both of which won awards upon premiering at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. He was the creative consultant for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival hit Best of Enemies, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Academy Award, and co-produced Ivy Meeropol’s documentary Indian Point, which premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. He is co-executive producer of The Yes Men Are Revolting directed by Laura Nix and The Yes Men, which premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, and Alison Klayman’s film The 100 Years Show, which debuted at Hot Docs. Clements executive produced Art and Craft, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and was shortlisted for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Raney Aronson-Rath


Raney Aronson-Rath is the Executive Producer of FRONTLINE, PBS’ flagship investigative journalism series, and is a leading voice on the future of journalism. She has been internationally recognized for her work to expand FRONTLINE’s reporting capacity and reimagine the documentary form across multiple platforms. From the emergence of ISIS in Syria  to the hidden history of the NFL and concussions to the secret reality of rape on the job for immigrant women, Aronson-Rath oversees FRONTLINE’s acclaimed reporting and directs the series’ evolution and editorial vision. She has developed and managed nearly 30 in-depth, cross-platform journalism partnerships with outlets including ProPublica, The New York Times and Univision. Under her leadership, FRONTLINE has won every major award in broadcast journalism and dramatically expanded its digital footprint. Prior to FRONTLINE, Aronson-Rath worked at ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, and MSNBC.

Justine Nagan


Justine Nagan is the Executive Director of American Documentary, Inc., and an executive producer on its two signature series, POV (PBS) and America Reframed (World Channel in partnership with WGBH). Prior to coming to AmDoc, Nagan led Kartemquin Films as Executive Director for seven years, as well as being an Emmy Award-winning executive producer on all KTQ films including Steve James’ Life Itself and The Interrupters and Bill Siegel’s The Trials of Muhammad Ali. During her tenure over 20 projects had world premieres including the ambitious Dupont Award-winning six-hour series Hard Earned for Al Jazeera America. She left the organization with a robust production pipeline and a strong financial footing including $1M in support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur and Sage Foundations. With Kartemquin, Nagan also directed Typeface, an award-winning documentary on American typography and graphic design and the doc short Sacred Transformations.

Sally Jo Fifer


Sally Jo Fifer serves as Expert Advisor of California Emerging Technology Fund. Fifer serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Independent Television Service (ITVS), the leading provider of independently produced programs for PBS. She also serves as an Executive Producer of Independent Lens, a 29-week national series for PBS. Prior to taking the helm at ITVS, she spent nine years as the executive director of BAVC. Fifer is the co-editor with Doug Hall of Illuminating Video, a widely used textbook on video art. She serves as President of Board at Bay Area Video Coalition, Inc. She has received fellowships for executive training from Stanford and Harvard Business Schools, and holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MA from Stanford University.

Neil Tabatznik


Neil is a partner and cofounder of Blue Ice Group and a producer with a wealth of experience in the film and television industry. As a co-owner of the Blue Lake Media Fund, Neil has executive produced a number of successful feature films including Steven Silver’s The Bang Bang Club, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and Truth. Coming from a legal background in South Africa, Neil went on to found Cobalt and Oryx Pharmaceuticals and served as chairman until its sale in 2009. He serves on the board of Hot Docs and the CFC.

Steven Silver


Steven is a partner and cofounder of Blue Ice Group, which acquired an equity position in Barna-Alper Productions in 2005. Steven served as President of Barna-Alper Productions from 2005 to 2009, when it was sold to eOne Entertainment Inc. After the sale, Steven spent a year as head of eOne’s factual entertainment division. Also an Emmy award-winning writer and director, Steven is behind acclaimed documentaries such as Gerrie & Louise and The Last Just Man. In 2010, Steven wrote and directed his first feature film The Bang Bang Club. He has also executive produced numerous projects including Truth and Midnight’s Children.

Robin Smith


Over the last 20 years, Robin has worked in management roles at a variety of film companies including the National Film Board of Canada, Alliance, Blackwatch Releasing, TIFF, Lions Gate Films, Seville Pictures and Capri Releasing. In 2007, he founded Canada’s premier boutique distribution company KinoSmith Inc. and has overseen the successful launch over 250 films within the Canadian marketplace. Notable successes under Smith’s guidance include such hits as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Russian Ark, Away From Her, Up The Yangtze, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams and Blackfish. Robin also acts as the Cinema Programmer for the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto operated by the Hot Docs International Documentary Festival – the only documentary dedicated cinema in the world. Currently, Robin is heralded as the one of the world’s leading documentary industry experts and intends to use his knowledge and expertise to steer Blue Ice Docs into an industry-leading documentary distribution company.

Fenell Doremus


Fenell Doremus began her documentary career working as an Assistant Editor on the award-winning Hoop Dreams. She went on to serve as staff Producer at Kartemquin Films for the next eight years.  She has worked as a coordinating producer and field producer for Hedrick Smith Productions (PBS series Seeking Solutions), Kartemquin Films (5 Girls, 2004 PBS), The Kindling Group (The Calling, 2011 PBS), and Motto Pictures (The Punch, in production). Fenell was Segment Co-Producer and a Segment Co-Editor of Kartemquin’s series The New Americans. The series was nationally broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens series in 2004 and won multiple awards at festivals worldwide.  In 2005 Fenell Directed and Edited the 30-minute documentary A Year on Teen St, following an underserved Chicago youth theater group over the course of a year. The short was broadcast on the local PBS series ArtBeat and was a co-production of Kartemquin Films and WTTW Chicago.  She is currently producing, Cooked, a precautionary tale about heat, poverty and the politics of disaster, with Peabody award winning director, Judith Helfand.

Nick Verbitsky


Nick Verbitsky is an EMMY Award winning TV producer, journalist and filmmaker and is the President/Exec Producer of Blue Chip Films. In addition to co-producing Abacus: Small Enough to Jail in 2016 for PBS FRONTLINE, Verbitsky directed FRONTLINE’s To Catch a Trader, an investigative look at Wall Street insider trading, which garnered an EMMY-nomination in 2014. In 2015, Verbitsky won an EMMY Award as Showrunner for Oh Yeah, a television series for NBC/Universal, and has also produced a number of documentaries for WeTV’s Secret Lives of Women, on subjects ranging from polygamy to domestic violence. Verbitsky was born in Queens, NY and obtained his BA in History from Colgate University, as well as a M.B.A. in Finance from NYU’s Stern School of Business

Sean Lyness


Sean is an Associate Producer at Motto Pictures.  Recently, he served as the Production Coordinator on Life, Animated, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival where it was awarded Best Director.  He is currently in production on several projects slated for completion in 2017, including Directors Roger Ross Williams and Kristi Jacobson’s newest film about New York City’s Billion Oyster Project.




Additional photos available upon request.


True/False Conversations – In Chinatown, ‘Abacus’ Bank and Sung Family Defend Their Legacy” (KBIA radio, February 2017)

A Sneak Peek at ‘Abacus: Small Enough to Jail‘” (Frontline, September 2016)

ABACUS generates buzz before highly anticipated TIFF ’16 premiere; First exclusive clip and theatrical poster revealed” (Kartemquin, September 2016)


Please contact momo[at]caamedia.org with any questions.


This program is funded by the Center for Asian American Media, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Follow Abacus: Small Enough to Jail on the film’s websiteFacebook and Twitter for updates.