The Government Goes After the Little Guy in Toronto Doc ‘Abacus: Small Enough to Jail’ (Exclusive Video)

“Hoop Dreams” director Steve James’ new film looks at the only bank that faced criminal charges after the 2008 financial collapse

After the financial collapse of 2008, a number of big banks received government bailouts, but only one bank faced criminal changes. It was a small, family-owned bank in New York’s Chinatown — and the story of how one small institution fought the government in court while the biggest culprits walked away with taxpayer money is the subject of Steve James‘ new documentary, “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.”

The bank, Abacus Federal Savings Bank, was founded by Thomas Sung in 1984 to serve the Chinese immigrant community in New York. After the financial meltdown, Abacus itself found evidence of low-level mortgage fraud and notified the authorities, who indicted Abacus and 19 former employees for fraud.

“Although this is David v. Goliath, David … has a slingshot: and that is, they’re a whole family of lawyers,” TV reporter Ti-Hua Chang says in a clip available exclusively on TheWrap. Four of the six Sung family members have law degrees, and the family spent years in court fighting the charges.

James’ cameras followed the final stages of the trial, though he was barred from recording inside the courtroom. “It was, as one court officer said to me rather humorously and derisively, ‘just a paper trial,'” said the director in a statement. “Meaning: a boring financial case. But we weren’t bored at all. Indeed, we came to believe that this obscure fraud trial, involving just thirty mortgages, has much to say about the financial crisis and larger issues of justice in America.”

James is the acclaimed documentary director responsible for “Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters” and “Life Itself.” He’s famous for making several of the most acclaimed non-fiction films of recent decades, and also for having every single one of those films snubbed by the Motion Picture Academy, which has yet to nominate him for an Oscar.

(It did, however, change its documentary-voting rules after an internal investigation showed that “Hoop Dreams” had been denied a nomination by a small group of voters who’d gamed the system to make sure their five favorites were the nominees.)

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” premieres on Sunday, Sept. 11 at the Toronto International Film Festival.