News

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail — Story of Small Business David vs. Federal Goliath

A new documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, is about the only bank to be criminally prosecuted for mortgage fraud in the 2008 financial meltdown. It just happened to also be the only bank not politically well-connected or defended by an army of lawyers, an example of how regulation favors the big guys. As a little bank, it just didn’t have, i.e., hadn’t purchased, the cozy relationship larger banks had with the Obama Administration or the Clintons. The film is getting good reviews. Says Screen Daily: “In its intimate, well-observed way, the film is deeply moving and subtly shaming.” Says RogertEbert.com: “The central figure in James’ Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Thomas Sung, decided he wanted to be a banker when he saw It’s a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra’s vision of a leader of a community by virtue of his support, both financial and emotional, inspired Sung, and James’ brilliantly uses the film as a thematic through line for his story of a George Bailey who stands up to a corrupt, flawed system.”

Madigan: Power, Privilege, Politics — Portrait of a Career Politician

Illinois is, by any measure, one of the most corrupt states in the US. The consequences of that corruption are about to get real, as the state is also on track for bankruptcy in the not too distant future. No one knows exactly what that means, but it will be big. Cities go bankrupt and fail, people and businesses leave, but life goes on. For a state to go bankrupt is unprecedented. In any case, how Illinois got to this point is a story that needs to be told, if for no other reason than as a warning to everyone else. The Illinois Policy Institute’s new documentary, Madigan: Power, Privilege, Politics, will be a good starting point in that telling. It focuses on the political career of Michael Madigan, the 30-year Speaker of the House of Illinois and Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, whom many believe to be the spider at the center of the web of Illinois’s corruption. The documentary will be screened in Illinois theaters beginning in October.

The Lovers and The Despot: How Kim Jong Il Tried to Kidnap a Film Industry

A new documentary, The Lovers and The Despot, tells the bizarre and gripping tale of two South Korean filmmakers, actress Choi Eun-hee and her husband, director Shin Sang-ok. In 1978, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il kidnapped them with the idea that they would be the creative spark needed to build a successful film industry in the North. Apparently, not unlike Hitler, Kim Jong Il had an artistic side: he loved films and longed to be a part of making them. Happily, the kidnapped couple eventually escaped, taking with them some of the only recordings ever made of Kim Jong Il talking, and these are used in the documentary. So, oddly enough, Kim got to be in film after all. For the filmmakers, their experience was something between Sunset Boulevard (with Kim Jong Il saying “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. De Mille) and The Vanishing. About the film, IndieWire says: “A story so interesting it feels like you could burrow into it for years. And so, when The Lovers and the Despot finally crawls to a close, you’re left with one thought above all others: This could make for a really great movie, some day.”

Law Professor: Don’t Talk to the Police

James Duane, a professor at Virginia’s Regent Law School, gave a speech eight years ago, entitled “Don’t Talk to the Police.” His speech warned that, legally speaking, the deck is stacked against ordinary people, and that talking to the police even innocently can get you into unexpected trouble. Little did he know that his speech, recorded and posted on YouTube would be viewed millions of times. He has since expanded on his thesis with a book, You Have the Right to Remain Innocent and he was recently interviewed by Vice.com: “I spoke to many sophisticated audiences, college students, law students, and they said, ‘This was astonishing, we had no idea, we never heard any of this, we never knew any of this.’ And that was what reminded me, it’s important to get this message out to as many people as possible.”

Chinese Censors Gaining Influence in Hollywood

By 2017, the Chinese box office is expected to exceed that of the US for the first time. That’s music to the ears of Hollywood execs eager for new business, but their access to that lucrative market will depend on appeasing Chinese Communist Party censors. According to an article in the Guardian, “The censors have the last word. Crime stories cannot have too many details. Stories of corruption must end with the bad guy behind bars. No ghosts. No gay love stories. No religion. No nudity. No politics.” The article gives a view of the future of film through the eyes of several Hong Kong directors, who have long experience in dealing with the censors. Says one director: “Everyone who makes expensive films will have to make compromises, because China is where the money is. It’s that simple.” It was previously reported by Epoch Times that Hollywood is already editing American movies to satisfy Chinese censors, effectively allowing the CCP to censor for the US as well. An example: Men in Black 3 was “forced to cut a scene in which civilians’ memories are erased, a scene that a Chinese newspaper wrote may have been perceived as a commentary on China’s internet censorship policies.”

Clinton Inc: New Documentary Hits 1,000 Theaters 9/30

First there was the Dinesh D’Souza documentary Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party. It was panned by the critics, but nonetheless did well for a documentary in the theaters, scoring $13 million in sales, making it the #1 documentary of 2016 in terms of sales. Then there was Clinton Cash, a persuasive litany of Clinton corruption based on the NT Times best-selling book by the same name, which the makers decided to release free online. And now there is Clinton Inc., a documentary that portrays the Clintons as a once-idealistic couple turned power-driven. Says the Daily Mail, “At its heart, ‘Clinton, Inc.’ is a psychological study of the Clintons and what makes them tick.” The film’s producers plan an aggressive distribution, with Clinton Inc. opening in 1,000 theaters on September 30th.

Godzilla Resurgence: A Parable About Incompetent Government

Godzilla has returned in Shin Godzilla, a.k.a. Godzilla Resurgence, and this time, according to a review in Japan News, he has an unexpected ally: an incompetent and sclerotic Japanese government. “The film portrays the widely known inability of political leaders to decide on anything, always taking a wait-and-see attitude. The long-established tripartite policy-making process involving politicians, so-called experts and the Prime Minister’s Office becomes totally disoriented. In the film, the ‘experts’ in particular are portrayed as useless, only spouting off-point comments.” The China Morning Post earlier likewise observed that the film makes fun of government bureaucratic sclerosis in Japan. “Within its opening moments, Shin Godzilla uses a sudden attack on Tokyo by a marauding sea monster to evoke the devastating impact of 2011’s Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The film then takes aim at the bureaucratic junkyard of ageing, out-of-touch politicians desperate to pass the buck and avoid controversy.”

The Bleeding Edge: Thriller About China’s Forced Organ Harvesting

Director Leon Lee’s latest film, The Bleeding Edge, has been described as “a deeply emotional and powerful film that borders somewhere between a thriller and a piece of investigative journalism.” It tells the story of a young Western tech executive who gets a heart transplant in China, only to discover afterward that the heart was taken from a Chinese prisoner as part of China’s organ “harvesting” program. The horror of this policy has been brought to light in several recent documentaries, including Hard to Believe and Leon Lee’s own Human Harvest, as a well as an undercover BBC expose.