CIFF Director's Spotlight Award: Steve James

"Abacus: Small Enough to Jail" [photo: Kartemquin Films]
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This weekend the Cleveland International Film Festival celebrates documentary filmmaker Steve James with the Director's Spotlight Award. 

He's best known for his film Hoop Dreams from 1994 about two star high-school basketball players from inner-city Chicago. 

James also received high praise for Life Itself from 2014 about influential film critic Roger Ebert, who championed James' Hoop Dreams two decades earlier.

"Roger demonstrated an ability to talk about films in a way that was smart and populist at the same time," said James.

James' latest documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail from 2016, tells the story of the only U.S. bank to be criminally indicted in the wake of the 2008 mortgage crisis.

However, James says, "usually if I stop the description at that point, people say 'good finally justice is brought.'  [But] this is not exactly that story."

To tell the story of the small family bank from New York City's Chinatown, James had to win the support of not only the Sung family (at the center of the story) but also the Chinatown community.

"The key to gaining access to communities that can be closed or very different from your own is the people that you're following," he said.

Four of Steve James' films screen this weekend at the 2017 Cleveland International Film Festival at Tower City Cinemas.

Listen to Dan Polletta's interview with Steve James today at 12:33 p.m. and 1:40 p.m. during Here and Now featuring The Sound of Applause.

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