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TIFF Reviews: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography & Maudie


In wake of the mortgage and loan crisis of 2008, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. filed charges against Abacus Federal Savings Bank.

A mortgage and loan officer is discovered committing fraud, he is fired and the incident is reported to authorities by Abacus Federal Savings Bank.  The matter spirals out-of-control as the bank itself comes under investigation with the star witness for the prosecution being the former employee.  The family-run business in the heart of Chinatown was the only financial institution to be charged.  At the heart of Abacus: Small Enough to Jail are the candid dinner conversations between Thomas Sung, his wife and daughters as they attempt to defend their reputation and weave their way through legal system.  Credit has to be given to filmmaker Steve James for including interviews from the opposing side which allows for a balanced perspective even though he perceives the situation to be a miscarriage of justice.



Legendary portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman reflects on her life and career.

Outside of the occasional off-camera question by filmmaker Errol Morris, the only person to appear in the documentary is Elsa Dorfman who embarks on a journey of rediscovery by going through her archives. A significant amount of time is spent on the relationship between Dorfman and Allen Ginsberg with the latter being the subject of many portraits. Like her pictures which would incorporate the cable of the camera trigger as part of the composition, the photographer is not about portraying a slick image which makes The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography quite endearing and homespun.



Viewed by her family as being incapable of being self-sufficient, Maud Lewis attempts to prove them wrong and in the process becomes one of Canada’s premier folk artists.

Treated as a burden by her family, Maud Lewis applies for a job to be the housekeeper of a local fish peddler who is far from being cordial and respectful to his employee.  The two social misfits establish a life together which is hardly idyllic.  The real inspiration comes from the protagonist overcoming her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis to become an artist with a piece of work ending up in the White House.  Sally Hawkins plays Maud with heart-breaking results while Billy MacLellan has too brief a role as an associate of her husband who is quick-witted and good-natured.  Unfortunately, Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of Everett Lewis and the rest of the cast in Maudie come across as one dimensional characters.


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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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