Abacus: Small Enough to Jail: Q&A with Director Steve James and the Sung Family, Film Subjects
By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a documentary about a small bank, Abacus, in New York's Chinatown community and their encounter with the US justice system. Director Steve James and members of the Sung family, subjects of the film, were in attendance for Q&As at several screenings of the film, shown at Landmark's E Street Cinema. The members of the Sung family included the parents Thomas and Hwei Lin Sung; and daughters Heather, Vera and Chanterelle. Bettina Yang served as moderator. Jill Sung was not able to participate. This Q&A is from the 1:30pm show on June 25 and has been edited and condensed.
Bettina Yang: When you went in to start filming and met the family, you probably had an impression of what you wanted to do. After completing this project, what is most different from your first impression?
Steve James: One of the reasons I love doing documentaries, is that in every film you go in with a certain idea of the story you are telling or what you hope to tell. In this case, initially what drew me to wanting to tell this story was the very obvious thing of here is this community bank that is the only bank charged in the wake of the 2008 crisis and a big deal is made by the DA of connecting them to that crisis. And as you look into it and as the trial revealed, they are the mirror opposite of that situation. They are a small bank, they discovered fraud, they reported fraud, they investigated fraud themselves. They really did everything you would want a bank to do if it discovered that it had some problems. And yet they became scapegoats and a poster child for the big banks by this indictment and trial. So all of that really interested me. And it was a story that wasn't being told in the mainstream media so we wanted to tell this story. But what was unexpected and what becomes the heart of this film clearly is I didn't know the family. And to get a chance to know this family and see how they coped with this ordeal and did it with such grace and courage and humor and some bickering (audience laughs) which was humorous. That's really the heart of this story. That's the thing that when you are a documentary filmmaker you can't anticipate is who these people that you're going to end up following in this important time of their life, who they are and how they deal with it. That's what I treasure most.
Bettina Yang: To Mr. and Mrs. Sung, you kept the family together throughout the court case and ordeal with calm and patience and belief. Family values are a very important element that we saw in this film. What are your family values?
Thomas Sung: Traditionally of course Chinese families tend to be more strict than normal but yes, when you go through a crisis like this, you need your family. It was a great help to have them with us.
Hwei Lin Sung: I don't think you can do this nowadays. They are now in their 40s (except for Chanterelle) I used to spank them. One of my daughters said, "Don't even mention it now because you might have to go to jail." I was very strict with them and they did complain once in a while, saying we never did this and that. I was strict and consistent, you cannot waiver. But they turned out to be really amazing to my surprise (everyone laughs) and I'm very proud.
Audience Question: Did Cyrus Vance make a public statement in reaction to the verdict?
Chanterelle Sung: He personally did not come out in the way he came out in the press conference to announce the indictment. After the acquittal he had the spokesperson for the District Attorney's office make a statement in the New York Times article that covered the acquittal. That statement, though, was troubling. You heard one of our attorneys refer to it in the documentary. Because they flat-out stated that they disagreed with the jury's verdict and then reiterated the reasons why they believed the bank was still guilty which is really quite unprecedented as the lawyer stated.
Steve James: They also said, "Well at least we stopped the fraud." It's like, "No you didn't stop the fraud, the bank stopped the fraud." There was also a statement along those lines.
Audience Question: How wide will distribution of this film be?
Steve James: We hope to be in 2000 theaters soon (audience laughs). We've been fortunate. This is a small release which is not atypical for a documentary these days. But we've been in New York, San Francisco, LA, Berkeley, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia; we're here, we're hoping we stick around an extra week here. We are opening in other markets too--Houston, Minneapolis. It's turning out to be pretty good. But it's like the little film that could; it's not going to be in a lot of theaters at once.
Audience Question: For the family members who agreed to participate, what was your thinking about agreeing to be filmed? Were you concerned about being exposed? And why the interest in pursuing this prosecution on the part of the District Attorney against this particular bank and obviously not against the larger banks?
Vera Sung: I knew the producer Mark Bin and I've known him now for about 10 years. I got to know him even before he had become a producer of movies; he worked with Steve James on Life Itself prior to this. So any friend of mine knew all about the details of this painful ordeal we were going through and we would share it as a matter of course. He said to me at the beginning of the trial, "Do you realize that you are the only bank that has been indicted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis?" A question that was rather daunting. I think we knew, as we never heard of any other bank that had been indicted, that we probably were. We certainly knew we were the only bank who actually survived an indictment. He then said that this should be documented, a documentary should be made of this. When I came back to my family, you met all of us on screen, so you know we don't always agree, some of us felt very shy and uncomfortable, never having been in front of a camera before. Others of us felt, oh no, we could be exposed. And largely we felt this would be very disruptive to us through a very stressful period in our lives when we're trying to fight a battle and trying to win. Ultimately we all decided that it would be a good thing to do, even though we didn't know what the outcome would be. It would be particularly important for this to be documented. When, as a family, we met Steve James, and not all of us knew--I don't think my parents knew Steve, but the rest of us knew his work through Hoop Dreams and Life Itself and various other films. But in meeting Steve we all immediately felt very comfortable in opening up and sharing our side of the story.
Chanterelle Sung: I definitely had reservations about being filmed and opening ourselves up. Steve sat me down at the beginning of the trial and just started talking to me like a regular human being, down to earth, completely not intimidating and asked me questions the answers to which I realized I had always wanted to speak about but had never really felt comfortable doing it. I spoke about this mostly with my family and not even to many friends because I think I was trying to compartmentalize and live just a regular life at the same time. But Steve opened me up to speaking about it and I became very emotional and a lot of scenes had to be cut because of me crying.
Thomas Sung: One member of family other than my wife, my daughter Heather is not involved in the case. Normally she is an MD, normally you would not expect her to participate with the prosecution process, but I was really surprised and comforted by the fact that she did also participate. So overall the whole family was involved in the litigation.
Heather Sung: In terms of our comfort in having ourselves filmed, I wasn't so much a part of that decision, but it wasn't so hard for me because I've been more protected not living in New York, not working in the business, having a separate life and a separate career. So I feel very fortunate in that regard. But there are a couple of things when you do expose yourself in such a way and open yourself up to vulnerability. One is having trust in the person who is doing this and as my sister said, we knew about the work that Steve James has done. What I really appreciate in his work is that he always presents his subjects in such a humanistic manner. He looks at his subjects as people, people not based upon where their backgrounds are socioeconomically, but is able to portray them in such a way that everybody can relate to, regardless of what their backgrounds are. That trust was very important in us being able to open up to him. And the second thing that enabled us to open up to him in a more comfortable manner was that we truly believed in us being right. My father has had a very philosophical approach in things regardless of outcome, he knew that he did the best that he did and was holding true to his values. So whatever the outcome was to be, we felt that in the end it was a vehicle for a greater voice whether the outcome was good or bad.
Thomas Sung: Why did I think the DA prosecutor picked our bank to be prosecuted? I read his purpose very early, even before the indictment, in an interview threatening employees. I knew his purpose was not to go after an individual. The star witness was the one person that we fired. So I knew he was after the bank. The question is why, of all the banks that committed wrongdoings and frauds. As reported in the Congressional record, he wanted to do that. They are all within his jurisdiction. Why would he pick a small bank like Abacus? My thought and from what I read is the fact that we are an easy subject in that we would not affect the overall economy. If he caused us to fail there would not be major repercussions on the economy and in the government as a whole. Secondly, because he felt that we as a community would not affect his political career because we never vote in significant numbers. But also we were accused of money and greed. In fact, we formed the bank not for money or greed but because we wanted to serve the community because we thought there was a lack of banking services to the immigrant community of the Chinatown community in New York. But really we thought he was using us as an example by indicting us, because no bank survives an indictment. By indicting us we would fail and then the case would be over and he would use that example and go to the big banks and extract more fines. That's really too bad, because the pursuit of money and power is not obvious in this case. But when the case was over he had to disclose how much he had in his DA account that he controls. He could spend the money not for his own personal benefit, not openly, but he could spend any way he wanted to. His account holds the sum of 808 million dollars. So I read his purpose in that way and felt that sacrificing us at the same time threatened the community and we were truly an important part of the community in helping Chinatown prosper. But we need to stand up.
Steve James: I think it's clear that it's a political position as DA in New York--you run for it, you get elected. To be able to say that you were the guy that convicted a bank in the wake of the financial fraud is a pretty great distinction to build a claim for yourself. It's clearly revealed in all the behaviors of the way they conducted the indictment, the spectacle of it, the ways in which he connected the fraud in Abacus to the big banks, even though the fraud that was going on in Abacus had nothing whatsoever to do with the fraud that was going on in the big banks. I'll call it fraud, because I'm not a lawyer. There was much political capital for him to be made from making an example.
Audience Question: Knowing you were on the side of the family, why did the prosecution agree to participate in the interview? To the family, your bank learned from what happened and tightened up procedures to prevent it from happening again. Have you tried to share your best practices with other banks so they can learn to do things right?
Steve James: From the start, we really tried to get the prosecution side into the story. We wanted, during the trial even, to interview if not be able to actually film the lawyers from the DA office. We tried to get an interview with Mr. Vance initially and we were turned down repeatedly. We even pursued, with help from the Sung family, Chanterelle in particular, to find lawyers, former assistant DAs who had left the office, because this went on for so long, I think there were something like 20 lawyers on that list. We pursued all of them with no luck. Once the DA's office lost the trial we thought it would be impossible to get them into the film. I really thought well that's that, we'll never get them in. But there were two key things that made it possible. One was that Frontline became affiliated with the film after the trial. We needed funding and we thought Frontline would be a great partner for this film. And they liked the film and story. So once Frontline became involved, that gave us a level of respect that doesn't come if you're just an independent filmmaker. That show on PBS is a highly successful and revered show; it's also a show that is watched by many people of influence. So at that point it bought us way more respect with people on the other side. I think they also really wanted to have their side out there. They felt, as you see in the film--those interviews happened after the trial--and they feel just as strongly today that they had it right and that the verdict was wrong. I think there was some element of wanting to have that out there and I think there was also a kind of fear of Frontline too that if they stonewalled us until the bitter end and refused to cooperate, that the story was going to be on Frontline without their opinions being in it. And of course we would be indicating that repeated attempts to get their involvement were denied and usually that says to people, "What are you hiding, why won't you participate and defend yourselves?"
Thomas Sung: As for best practices, I feel strongly from the very beginning we did nothing wrong. We did everything correctly. The whole entire prosecution was bogus, based on wrong reasons, improper theory. There was an article written about this case in the New York Law Journal that analyzed the outcome of this case. [Title: Abacus Federal Savings Bank and the Dangers of Cooperation Without Representation] and the subject was what clients need to do to prepare themselves early to engage a lawyer early when you face a potential prosecution. From the point of view of the legal community you need to prepare yourself when you are confronted with the prosecuting authorities. We gave them almost a million pages of documents, you couldn't have done anything more than what we did. Their answer was too little and too late. They feel that we have done wrong, just like many other big banks had done wrong. But after the 2008 financial crisis we required no assistance from the government. After that crisis occurred, we were in such a strong position to lend to our community and help our people. In so many ways, it's just mind boggling that we should be singled out. From a compliance point of view when you get indicted, everybody's scared; they want to cover their tail, including the regulators who say maybe we would be blamed in case something was truly wrong. But now that the case is over and we were acquitted, everybody now takes a somewhat different attitude.
Steve James: The bank's position on this wasn't that was there no fraud that went on. They discovered it. What Ken Yu was doing was wrong; that's why he got fired. And when they conducted their own internal investigation that resulted in at least two other employees leaving it was because they were not acting in ways that was proper in terms of the bank. But the thing that gets lost, that the film may not do a good enough job of explaining is that the kind of fraud that was going on for the most part, Ken Yu aside, was of the kind of petty, really small kind of fraud that frankly has gone on--it's harder now in the wake of 2008 for that to happen--this all happened prior to Dodd-Frank--is the kind of fraud that has gone on in mortgages forever. I like to tell audiences that when I bought my first house I inflated my income, because my income was low and they didn't have to look at my tax returns so I could do that. My parents gave me money for the downpayment and I didn't tell the loan officer that's where it came from, because I thought they might not give me the loan. These are the kind of things that the DA's office inflated and threw every charge they could at the bank. There are certain things that are "wrong" but they are also the kind of things that have no impact at all on the ability of the borrower to pay the loan which is why Abacus has 1/20th the national rate of default on loans. They threw everything they could at this bank because if they were able to make any one of them stick, they've won. That's part of the strategy. Chanterelle?
Chanterelle Sung: My last year and a half at the DA's office was when this case first began. I had friends, colleagues from that office that I kept in touch when even after I left. Initially when the indictment came out this was a case I believe the office felt very proud of, but I knew even before the indictment and then knew very well after that that this was a case they knew was a very weak case and that they were not actually proud of but nevertheless they had to figure out a way to defend. My notion is that the criminal justice system actually works; it's the people behind it that really matter. There are plenty of ways to end this from the prosecution side once they realized they didn't have the evidence, that the trial was going terribly, that their witnesses were recanting, that the prosecutors were at risk of suborning perjury. There are methods, procedures, motions you can make to dismiss, charges you can dismiss. But sitting there watching the prosecutors try to continue because they had made this decision to do this and they were going to fight it to the end, it was really frustrating. You can't impute the liability of some lower level fraud onto a corporation unless you can prove that a higher level managerial agent knew about or recklessly tolerated the conduct. And furthermore that that conduct committed by the lower level was in behalf of the corporation. The evidence simply wasn't there. I know that the office struggled with figuring out whether they could even charge the corporation. They sought advice from colleagues on the appeals bureau thinking that if they achieved a conviction in the end would it be overturned on appeal. Furthermore after the indictment they had really tried to stretched the truth in terms of the charges that they put in here. They were trying to claim that the bank was selling securities and this was so that they could then say that this bank was doing what the big banks were doing. They would charge a bunch of securities violations under the New York state law Martin Act. Right after the indictment our lawyers made a motion explaining that these are not securities, they are wholly owned residential mortgages. We don't repackage these loans and so we're not engaged in the subprime mortgage lending field that the big banks are engaging in. And in fact the court outright dismissed all those charges right after the indictment.
Audience Question: I know you've been through an ordeal and suffered but did you think about reparations or going after the DA's office for going after you? An injustice has been committed.
Vera Sung: Yes, a great injustice was committed and we were acquitted. We did think about suing the DA's office, we could for malicious prosecution. After we won the trial, he actually dismissed charges against seven other individuals who were in that staged perp walk that you saw. And the basis for which he stated in the dismissal memo--one reason was that he did not realize that Ken Yu was such a liar; another reason was he didn't realize that Fannie Mae had different standards and worked with different banks in different ways. So those are all very good reasons that we could file a civil lawsuit against him. But this ordeal took so much out of us and it would take even more legal fees in order to pursue this. We really felt as a family that we won the case and that we now must take all our resources and move forward in terms of building back the bank. During this whole five year period, business was very difficult. No one wanted to deal with you because you are indicted. So it's very hard to do business with anybody else. Fannie Mae would not allow us to sell loans to them anymore. Our ability to serve our community had been severely harmed during that time and we felt we really needed to get back to serving our mission and helping out the community. However we do know that one or two of the other individuals whose charges have been dismissed that they are moving forward in terms of suing the DA's office for malicious and wrongful prosecution. That's the only way we can make some checks and balance on this type of behavior.
Audience Question: How did you select those two jury members?
Steve James: Credit goes to co-producer Nick Verbitsky. Nick was the real bulldog who continued the pursuit. He came along when Frontline got involved. Nick is a New York based journalist who works on financial related films for Frontline. He was a great addition to the team. He's the one that carried on the pursuit of Vance and Polly Greenberg [Chief, DA's Major Economic Crimes Bureau] and others. He also then set about trying to talk to every juror. One of them was a bartender and he went into the bar and drank for awhile (audience laughs) and then got around to asking him, but the guy didn't want to be in it and I don't think he gave the drinks for free either (audience laughs). We knew though that we really really wanted to do our best to get some juror voices in the film. What we hoped for and Nick succeeded in doing was that we could get one of the holdout jurors (Jessica) and one of the jurors on the other side (Ramon) and that was really fortunate I think for the film. I don't agree with the way Jessica saw the case but we felt it was really important for you, given that it was a 10 day deliberation and that they really struggled in the jury room, that it was important for you to hear that perspective that she had on the case. To me this again brings it back to the family, it speaks to their strength of conviction because we were very clear with them that we were going to do our best to get the other side's voices into this film. We were very clear with them that whatever compelling points they made that we were going to include it in the film and we were going to put it front of them and get their response to it. And they were fine with that. They understood that and they accepted that because they felt so strongly that they were innocent, even though Polly Greenberg does make the point which is technically right that they were found not guilty, not innocent.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail opened June 23 at Landmark's E Street Cinema.
Sami Blood: Q&A with Director Amanda Kernell and actress Lene Cecilia Sparrok
By Ron Gordner, DC Film Society Member
Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell; Sweden/Denmark/Norway; 2016) had its North American premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival in the Discovery Section for new or sophomore directors, in September 2016. The film shows the history of another country or group of countries' treatment of indigenous peoples, in this case the Sami who herd reindeer
in Northern Scandinavia. The story begins with an older woman attending her sister’s funeral and her reminiscences of her childhood in Sweden as a young Sami girl who was treated as a second class citizen. Sami were sent to separate schools and were studied by phrenologists and other dubious scientists. Teenage Elle Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) is sent to a boarding school with other Sami children including her younger sister Njenna, to learn the Swedish language and some customs. They were also taught that their own Sami customs were inferior to the main Swedish society. Elle Marja is a bright girl and quickly learns the Swedish language and sometimes tries to fit into Swedish society and is conflicted by the lessons that teach her to disdain her own family and culture. The film has already garnered many awards including the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film at the 2016 Goteberg Film Festival; Best Director or Best Director of a Debut Film award for Kernell at the Santa Barbara and Venice Film Festivals; Best Actress for Sparrok at the Tokyo Film Festival and the Audience Award at a number of international and U.S. film festivals.
Audience Question: How long was the process of writing, casting, and shooting the film?
Amanda Kernell: The present time scenes we shot in 10 days and those from the 1930s took about 33 days of shooting. We worked with our two lead actresses Lene Cecilia and her real sister Mia Erika Sparrok for about two years before the shooting to rehearse the characters and to study the Sami language. I am part Sami, but there are really only about 500 living Sami language speakers. There are many thousands of Sami people, but many have integrated into Swedish society and forgotten their language and in some cases their culture. I wanted to capture this also for history and think I probably met almost all the Sami teenage girls. I also wanted two sisters if possible, to be able to act and do actual reindeer herding. They needed to know the traditions.
Audience Question: Is the Sami singing style yoiking similar to throat singing?
Amanda Kernell: Well it differs in the South and North and also somewhat with the individual.The person at the end yoiking at the funeral is the Sami award-winning yoiker.
TIFF Moderator: Lene Cecilia, what was it like for you to see yourself on film and the movie itself?
Lene Cecilia Sparrok: This is the second time I have seen it. The first time was a little strange. I don’t know how to explain it.
Amanda Kernell: It is her first film. (applause)
Audience Question: What was the basis for the script?
Amanda Kernell: I am from a Sami family, and some of the elders in my family no longer want to associate with the Sami people but my father and his side still do some reindeer herding. Some of the families have changed their names to Swedish. I wanted to know about this before it may die out. I also want to know can you really become another person, or are you really still that person in many ways. Also what does it do to you to cut off all ties to your family and culture? Also historically what happened in Sweden with these special schools, and also they used the schools to do strange phrenology and blood tests. Maybe this was influential to what the Nazis did later. Also what would these kind of studies and attitudes do to you as a person, knowing that you were told you were an inferior race or second class citizen? I started interviewing older people in my own family and elsewhere. I wanted to get the story correct and I wanted to use the real songs and culture. I also got German and Swedish books on how they measured heads, etc. I felt I needed to get it right. Although it is fiction and was first based on a pilot or short, it is in many ways a composite story of what happened in Sami children’s lives in 1930’s Scandinavia.
Audience Question: How was the film received in Sweden? It seems exotic for us in Canada. Did it make Swedes uncomfortable?
Amanda Kernell: It was a world premiere a few days ago at the Venice Film Festival, so you are the second audience to see it. So it hasn’t had general release in Sweden yet. I don’t know about how it will be viewed. I do know that in Swedish school texts you maybe found a paragraph or two about the Samis only and that they were in four Scandinavian countries.
Audience Question: What were the challenges in getting the film made including funding? And how did you pitch the film to obtain needed funding?
Producer/screenwriter Ivan D. Gaona: It’s always difficult to finance a film like this. Luckily in Sweden, Denmark and Norway we have some state film funding etc. But filming in the North with bad weather, animals, unknown or non-actors can be hard. We had a short film first that played in the Sundance Film Festival where it was well received. They could see what the feature film would be like and what a good director Amanda was.
Amanda Kernel: Yes, also many challenges when you have animals, challenging weather, lighting and first time actors in the same frame but it went well. We also wanted to project various types of shame in the film and personal shame or appearance. Today I am wearing some official Sami clothing and I thought, "Will I look like I’m in the circus, what will people think?" But I also have tremendous pride in my heritage so no, here I am in Sami attire (applause). Also making this film is somewhat of an open wound supported especially by the older generation of Sami. The apparent shame is still there in my life so everything is not always sunny and cheerful when you still have this in the background.
Lene Cecilia Sparrok: To me the most challenging parts were how to protect the character and play it. I was somewhat a naked canvas and had to learn some acting and really the history and culture of my ancestors also and a real awareness of things I did not know.
Sami Blood opened June 30, 2017 at the Landmark's West End theatre.
The Journey: Q&A with Director Nick Hamm and Panel
By Annette Graham, DC Film Society Member
The Journey (UK, 2016) is a fictionalized account of a meeting between the politicians who negotiated the landmark 2006 peace agreement in Northern Ireland: Ian Paisley, a minister and political agitator and Martin McGuinness, former IRA leader. Timothy Spall plays Ian Paisley and Colm Meaney plays the part of Martin McGuinness. The film was shown June 20 at the Washington Institute for Peace. Filmmaker Nick Hamm was present for Q&A along with a panel from various peace organizations. The panelists were Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Organization; Nadia Gerspacher, Institute of Peace; Elizabeth Hume, Alliance for Peace Building and moderator Shamil Idriss, president of Search for Common Ground. This Q&A has been edited and condensed.
Shamil Idriss: Nick, there are less risky ways to make a film on such a hot topic. Why this film and why now?
Nick Hamm: I thought this was one of the most extraordinary political relationships that I had encountered. It was known about in Ireland and the UK but not much outside of that. I look at it now and think when I was making the movie, I was making a movie about two people who had, because of their relationship, essentially allowed peace to happen and allowed people to stop killing each other. That was real, they actually did that. In a world in which politicians are consistently derided as useless, craven and power-seeking, it seemed to me an example of two politicians who had actually achieved remarkable things. And that relationship should be celebrated and should be put on the screen.
Shamil Idriss: The film had a great reception commercially.
Nick Hamm: We are fortunate we did well review-wise in New York and hopefully it will now go around the country and will show in all the markets in America. It's wonderful to show it here and I've seen this now in so many different places. We started the movie in the Venice Film Festival about a year go, then went to Toronto, London and a month ago opened in Belfast. Then New York and now here. I have to say that the political references were picked up much quicker here than anywhere else. (audience laughs).
Shamil Idriss: Ambassador Stephenson, in addition to more than 30 years in diplomatic corps, now president of the American Foreign Service Association, you served as consul general in Belfast 2001-2004 You knew Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness directly. Were they anything like this film?
Barbara Stephenson: Congratulations to Nick. I just think that you nailed them. I think you nailed the human side that overcame the ideological divisions and I think you also captured that they were growing older. And I think that was absolutely key to them making peace. Ian didn't have that much more time and he wanted to sit in that chair. And you captured that.
Shamil Idriss: There's a great quote at the beginning of the film about how young men go to war and old men think of their legacy. Personal frailties and incentives and desires for legacy play a role.
Barbara Stephenson: I was close with Ian Jr. and he did a farewell dinner for me at Stormont where the assembly meets and after dinner he took us in to the big hall. And he said, "That's where Dad's going to sit." And I left with that thought and knew then that was what Ian was planning to do.
Shamil Idriss: No two people in history hated each other so much. What were those personal qualities that you picked up on when you got to know them?
Barbara Stephenson: This is always tricky to go into when you knew Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. I always had a soft spot for Martin McGuinness because he did apologize; he really was good in government. He cared about kids and education and in a very genuine way. I think in spite of all the blood he had on his hands there was a side of him that was very different and I think that's what Ian Paisley connected with. I think the scene in which he won't hit the deer with the rock somehow kind of captures that. He looked a bit like a choirboy in spite of the fact that he was head of the IRA. It was just a very unusual combination.
Nick Hamm: That's why Ian Paisley looks at him like that. In that scene we actually shot it where he does hit the deer. Then he found blood on his hands. So I have an image of McGuinness standing in the wood with blood on his hands. And it was in the movie all the way through to the last cut of the picture. Then I just realized it was too much. We didn't need this. The movie is about redemption, about how one can change and become someone else. You didn't need that; it was too heavy-handed.
Shamil Idriss: Nadia, you are director of education and capacity building here at the United States Institute of Peace. You've seen and worked with security services and security forces around the world. You have specific experience in Northern Ireland. There are no negotiations per se in the film; the only point is you're going to be first minister and I'm going to be deputy first minister. But that's already been decided; there's no back and forth about that in the film. Policing and acceptance of the police force was a big issue in the negotiations. Can you talk a little about that?
Nadia Gerspacher: I thought the movie was fantastic. You really captured the fact that in the peace building process there are always sides that have to manage conflict. That's what peace building is all about. You did a fantastic job showing how that actually happens. This is what has been happening with the police for a long time. There are sides; you have to find a way to police systematically for everyone in the same way. And that has been very difficult. There are issues of legacy that young people today with whom I've been working still talk about. There's a lot of talk in the film about legacy and what young people are going to do and how things can get much worse. And how they may have ideas about more violence. And we see this around the world today. You captured that so beautifully. This is what the police has been working with. They have done it brilliantly. They have arrived today at a police which have an ability to restrain against violence on crowds.That is completely unparalled. They use force very seldom; they have media relations. Things have gone toward a transformation in the peace building field; we have seen a transformation in the security forces. Many of them have had personal transformations and also as a force. They're still working on it. It's a big challenge but policing is a challenge as we know even in this country every day. We are still at a point today where the police is managing these sides and trying to make sure these sides are being protected and recognizing that that police is everyone's police. That's still a struggle they are facing because of everything we've seen in this film. That's a sort of fragility that still exists. The most difficult thing I heard over there was the Roman Catholic communities talking about now the police is our police. And the Protestant community thinking you are no longer our police, you spend so much time serving these individuals. When they really are serving everyone pretty well and pretty systematically and reliably and equitably. But they do have to manage that line very carefully.
Nick Hamm: The police are also targets in Belfast. When I was living there shooting the movie, one night someone had thrown a live grenade outside the house. I was out to dinner. The police cordoned off the area. Kids will be recruited by dissident members of the IRA or dissident Republicans and they'll bring the police into an area and then try to shoot them. Because they want to disrupt everything. So this grenade had been thrown at the police station, started a riot. Police cars came in. The grenade didn't go off. They cordoned off the whole area. My wife and I walked across the bridge and were standing next to the policeman. Belfast is the only city in the world where you are not safe to stand next to a policeman. Think about that. The cop said to my wife who didn't know this, "You need to move on." It was 1:00 in the morning. "You need to go away." "We live there; we can't get into the house." They said, "You can't go into your house. We're not allowing anyone to go into their houses." We said, "Why can't we go into the house?" "You need to move because the target of this is me." It's a remarkable thing what they've achieved over the years but they're still trying to mess with it. And that was a year ago.
Nadia Gerspacher: Every day when police officers get into their car and every time they get back into their car all throughout Northern Ireland will check for a bomb underneath the car before they get in. Every single time they get in. They tell their children that they're checking for cats.
Shamil Idriss: Elizabeth Hume, you direct programs and strategy at the Alliance for Peace Building. You have experience at the State Department office of conflict and management mitigation at USAID. In our field you need governments to make peace but it's not going to take root without work happening at the local level. What struck you about the film?
Elizabeth Hume: I'm waiting for the sequel. I kept thinking about all the work that had to be done after this. It's a phenomenal movie about a relationship and leadership. This is a really important step, but it's one step to the process. I served in the peace keeping mission in Kosovo and Bosnia. I was in Afghanistan after 9/11 and I was thinking about all the hard work that has to come next, the reconciliation, the peace bulding programs. And then also a prequel, because they didn't just show up here. The amount of work that went in to get the politicial parties comfortable on the issues of demobilization. That's what breaks down a lot of peace agreements or the peace process, because people are afraid, they don't understand all the issues that go into demobilization of paramilitaries. What are governments going to look like? So I was thinking of the before and the after as well.
Shamil Idriss: Making a film like this, basically two people talking in a car, for the vast majority of the film, is a pretty big challenge. What has been the reaction in Ireland, in England?
Nick Hamm: I went to see McGuinness before we shot the movie. We were driven to the center of Derry to the middle of the Sinn Fein headquarters. McGuinness sat across the table from us and talked for two or three hours, exactly about what you were talking about, which was his relationship with the IRA, his relationship with the British government, decommissioning and how he dealt with it. He was in both organizations. There was a kind of wonderful duplicity to it but there was an incredible charisma. Those two parties didn't speak to each other in the peace process. They didn't sit in the same room; the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] refused to sit in the same room as Sinn Fein. You talk about all the work that went into getting them there. And that plane journey, they actually did take that plane journey and it did actually happen. I dramatized it and put them in a car. But they did actually get on a plane. There were four or five people on the plane. It was a private jet. It was the first time they had actually talked. And a month later, McGuinness said to me that Paisley walked past him in the Parliament and acknowledged him, just went hello. And at that moment, McGuinness knew that there was something in the cards. It's just extraordinary. They succeeded. That's what we take solace in, that you could actually have success in this; sometimes all of this hard work; all of this incredible boring struggle to just get somebody in a room actually produces results. I salute all of you for doing this work on a daily basis because it's damn hard.
Shamil Idriss: How has this gone over on the ground?
Nick Hamm: On the ground: the British are bored with Ireland and they can't stand anything to do with it. They've lived with it long enough and totally don't want anything to do with Belfast; they yawn. But the Irish watched the film. We screened it in Belfast to about 1,000 people in two screenings. It was an extraordinary event. Representatives from Sinn Fein, the IRA, UDA [Ulster Defence Association] and DUP were there and afterwards there was a Q&A. People were talking about what the movie meant to them. A man got up and said, "I just want to talk about my sons. And how my sons have escaped." People in the audience just started to cry. This movie is about this man, it's about you now, it's not a piece of entertainment; it's not something separate from you. It's about what you just lived through for 20 years. And they have to be able to celebrate this; they have to. That was a very emotional experience.
Shamil Idriss: How do you see these dynamics playing out with the politics of today?
Barbara Stephenson: One of the great achievements of the whole peace process was policing that was recognized as valid by both sides. But the other part is there is no border between Ireland, north and south. You just imperceptibly drive from the Republic into Northern Ireland and the colors of the lines on the road change from white to yellow and yellow to white and that's it. But you can't really do Brexit without putting the border back up. So all this work for so long now that has made that a seamless border and has really made a return to violence such a distant memory, it seems like you passed the point of no return on that. You throw a border back up and suddenly a whole series of questions arise. That's the worst part of this. The DUP does not want a hard border to go up. Nobody does. So it's going to be very interesting how the conservative government takes the DUP into the fold because you're going to need them to get the votes through but anything that looks like a hard Brexit requires customs which requires border which circles around and around. But the DUP are not just some disinterested bystanders on this topic.
Nick Hamm: They now have 10 MPs. If Sinn Fein got 7 MPs and decided to take their seats in Parliament they would have a balance of power. But they won't take their seats because they won't recognize the authority of the British government. Think about that. They could dismantle the British government in one moment and yet they won't recognize it in order to dismantle it.
Audience Question: I got the impression from the film that the IRA had more blood on their hands than the other side. Is this true?
Nick Hamm: I'm not eligible to answer that but I'm not saying that in the movie. Even though many people would argue that case. The IRA were a military organization that committed atrocities against civilians for many years. That's fact of life. But I wasn't suggesting how bad were you and how bad were you. Paisley encouraged an incredible amount of dissent and discomfort. Remember these men were deeply unpopular, they were not liked prior to their coming together as statesmen. They were only liked a lot by their own constituents. Outside their own constituents, they weren't liked at all. So this was remarkable what they did because they reached beyond their own base, they reached beyond their own tribe. They said I'm prepared to lose my tribe in this thing. Don't we need any politicians like that now?
The Journey opens in the Washington DC area on July 7.
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
"Underworld: International Crime Cinema" (July 8-September 13) is an ambitious collection of thrillers, police procedurals and neo-noirs from around the world. Titles in July are Animal Kingdom (2010) from Australia; The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) from Argentina; Pyromaniac (2015) from Norway; The Connection (2014) from France; In Order of Disappearance (2014) from Norway; Tell No One (2006) from France; Human Capital (2013) from Italy; Phoenix (2014) from Germany; A Wolf at the Door (2013) from Portugal; Neighboring Sounds (2012) from Brazil; A Monster With a Thousand Heads (2015) from Mexico and City of God (2002) from Brazil. More in August and September.
"AFI Life Achievement Award Retrospective: Diane Keaton" (July 7-September 7) is a series of films starring Diane Keaton. Titles in July are Play it Again Sam, Interiors, Sleeper, Manhattan, Love and Death and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. More in August and September.
"Canada Now" (July 7-September 13) is a series of films celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada's birthday. Titles in July are Weirdos with filmmaker Bruce McDonald present for Q&A; Goon, My Internship in Canada, I've Heart the Mermaids Singing, and Bollywood/Hollywood. More in August and September. More Canadian films at the National Gallery of Art.
"Seven Beauties: The Films of Lina Wertmuller" (July 7-August 20) is a collection of recently restored films with one documentary. Titles in July are The Seduction of Mimi, Summer Night, Love and Anarchy, Swept Away and All Screwed Up. More in August.
"Andrzej Zulawski Remembered" (July 28-August 12) is a mini-retrospective of the Polish director's films. One title in July; Possession (1981) with the rest in August.
"Harry Potter and the Silver Screen" shows all eight of the Harry Potter films. Titles in July are Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The remaining four are in August.
Special Engagements during July include Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (Karen Thomas, 2009) on July 2 at 2:30pm, several showings of Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942), Tarantula (1955) presented by Count Gore de Vol, Alien (1979), Multiple Maniacs (John Waters, 1970), House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977), Running Man (1987), a 4K restoration of Lawrence of Arabia, a 50th anniversary show of The Graduate, Ghost in the Shell (1995), Chuck Berry Hail Hail Rock n Roll, Zodiac, Rashomon, I Confess and Mifune: The Last Samurai.
"Fantastic '82" (July 21-27) is a short series of films released in the summer of 1982. Titles are Poltergeist, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Star Trek 11: The Wrath of Khan, Tron and The Thing.
The "Recent Restorations" series (April 28-July 6) includes Howard's End, Heaven Can Wait, One-Eyed Jacks and The Lady from Shanghai. Some restorations are 4K.
"Directed by David Lynch" (May 12-July 6) concludes in July with Lost Highway and a Mulholland Drive.
"Encores" (April 29-July 3) concludes in July with a 2K restoration of King of Jazz (John Murray Anderson, 1930).
"Stage and Screen" presents stage performances from the National Theater. During July is "Salome."
Freer Gallery of Art
The Freer is closed for renovations until October 2017. Films will be shown at varying locations.
The 22nd Annual "Made in Hong Kong" Film Festival begins July 14 at 7:00pm with Mad World (2016) with director Wong Chun and screenwriter Florence Chan in person. On July 16 at 1:00pm is Trivisa (Jevons Au, Vicky Wong Kai-Kit and Frank Hui, 2016); on July 16 at 3:30pm is Vampire Cleanup Department (Hang Chiu and Anthony Yan, 2017); on July 23 at 1:00pm is Three (Johnnie To, 2016); on July 23 at 3:30pm is Mrs. K (Ho Yuhang, 2016); and on July 30 at 2:00pm is Soul Mate (Derek Tsang, 2016). All are shown at the American History Museum's Warner Bros. Theater. More in August.
National Gallery of Art
Special events in July include I Clowns (Luigi Cuomi, 2014) about a traveling circus shown with Constellations (Federico Fellini, 1970) about mimes and jesters on July 1 at 11:00am. On July 12 and 13 at noon and July 15 at 2:00pm is the Washington premiere of Windshield: A Vanished Vision (Elissa Brown, 2016). On July 15 at 4:00pm is Book of the Year 3000 (Victor Grauer, 1974) introduced by film scholar Brett Kashmere. On July 19 and July 22 at noon is the documentary In the Steps of Trisha Brown (Marie-Helene Rebois, 2016), about choreographer Trisha Brown and the staging of one of her ballets. On July 22 at 2:00pm is House of Bamboo (Sam Fuller, 1955), introduced by film professor Marsha Gordon, author of the book Film Is Like a Battleground. On July 30 at 4:00pm is the Washington premiere of Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra, 2016), starring Jean-Pierre Leaud.
"Saluting Canada at 150" is a seven-part program of documentaries, experimental shorts and features. On July 1 at 2:00pm is My Winnipeg (Guy Madden, 2007); on July 1 at 4:00pm is The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997); on July 2 at 1:00pm is Pour la suite du monde (Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault, 1963); on July 2 at 4:30pm is "The Other Side of Forty-Nine: Experimental Cinema from Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Center." On July 4 at 1:00pm is the documentary Ladies and Gentlemen ... Mr. Leonard Cohen (Don Owen and Donald Brittain, 1965), preceded by three short films Begone Dull Care, Neighbors and City of Gold. On July 4 at 3:00pm is Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012) and on July 8 at 2:00pm is Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2001). More Canadian films are at the AFI.
"Cinema de la revolution: America Films Eighteenth-Century France" (July 14-August 12) is shown in conjunction with the exhibit "America Collects Eighteenth Century French Painting." On July 14 at 2:00pm is Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006); on July 16 at 4:00pm is Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears, 1988); on July 23 at 4:00pm is Jefferson in Paris (James Ivory, 1995); on July 28 at 2:00pm is Scaramouche (George Sidney, 1952), with two more in August.
Two separate programs of award-winning films from the Black Maria Film Festival are shown on July 29 at 1:00pm and July 29 at 3:30pm.
National Museum of African Art
On July 15 at 2:00pm is Maami, part of the "Africa in Reel Time" series, documentary and feature length films.
National Museum of the American Indian
On July 1 at 1:00pm is a set of seven short films highlighting the role of Native Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces. Titles are Cree Code Talker (Alexandra Lazarowich, 2017); Jack (Tom Roberts and Jeremy Williams, 2009); The Patton of the Pacific: Admiral Jocko Clark (2016); World War II Homefront Hero Echo Rider (2016); Joshua Wheeler, Delta Force Master Sergeant (2016); Revisiting History With Cherokee Warriors (2015); and Diving With Wounder Warriors (2017).
Museum of American History
Films in the "Made in Hong Kong" series are shown in this location. See above.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
On July 1 at 6:30pm is a 25th anniversary screening of Boomerang (1992) and a discussion afterwards with director Reginald Hudlin and George Alexander, author of Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers.
On July 2 at 2:00pm is Putney Swope (1969) and a discussion with director Robert Downey Sr. and comedian/writer Jordan Carlos.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
On July 8 at 3:00pm is Shirley Visions of Reality (Gustav Deutsch, 2013) about Edward Hopper's paintings. On July 22 at 3:00pm is Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) based on Lynch's paintings.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
On July 18 at 7:00pm is Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light, a documentary about African Americans in Paris from WWI to the early 1960s. The film's co-producer, Julia Browne, will be present for discussion.
On July 19 at 6:30pm is Winnie, about Winnie Mandel with discussion afterwards. Both these films are part of the "March on Washington Film Festival."
Washington Jewish Community Center
On July 11 at 7:30pm is Fanny's Journey (Lola Doillon, 2016), about children trying to reach the Swiss border as Nazis close in; based on a true story.
On July 28 at 6:30pm is Lessons of a Dream (Sebastian Grobler, 2011) based on the true story of teacher/football pioneer Konrad Koch.
National Air and Space Museum
"Hollywood Goes to War: World War I on the Big Screen" is a series of WWI films commemorating the entry to the US in 1917. Films are shown in both locations and the series ends in November. On July 14 at 7:00pm is Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick (1957) starring Kirk Douglas.
On July 11 at 7:00pm is The Human Beast (Jean Renoir, 1938) and on July 25 at 7:00pm is The Horseman on the Roof (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 1995), both part of the "books to movies" film series.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
On July 7 at 6:30pm is the anime Robot Carnival, a collection of nine short films, many done by animators in their early career.
On July 19 at 6:30pm is the first of a summer film trilogy Rurouni Kenshin: Origins (Keishi Otomo, 2012). More in August.
On July 5 at 8:00pm is Like Crazy (Paolo Virzi, 2016) from Italy, part of the "Programmer's Choice" series.
On July 12 at 8:00pm is Obit (Vanessa Gould, 2016), part of the "Avalon Docs" series of films.
On July 19 at 8:00pm is This Summer Feeling (Mikhaël Hers, 2015), this month's "French Cinematheque" film.
For "Reel Israel" on July 26 at 8:00pm is AKA Nadia (Tova Ascher, 2015). Note that the previously scheduled Harmonia will be in August.
Italian Cultural Institute
On July 5 at 6:00pm is Angel of Mercy (Enrico Pau, 2016), set in 1930s Sardinia.
On July 19 at 6:00pm is Occhi Chiusi (Closed Eyes) (Giuseppe Petitto, 2017).
Library of Congress
The Mary Pickford Theater
at the Library of Congress starts a new series of films showcasing the Library's collection and including newly preserved films. On July 19 at 7:00pm is Ferry Cross the Mersey (Jeremy Summers, 1964) featuring the bank Gerry and the Pacemakers. A short film Rhythm 'n Greens (Christopher Miles, 1964), featuring The Shadows, precedes the feature.
"Echoes of the Great War: World War I in European Films" is a summer film series featuring European perspectives on the Great War and complementing the exhibit "Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I." These films represent common human bonds and the costs of war that transcend national origin. On July 8 at 2:30pm is The Good Soldier Svejk (Jiri Trnka, 1960) about the adventures of a Czech soldier in WWI. Location: Mary Pickford Theater, James Madison Building.
A series highlighting National Film Registry Modern Classics begins July 13 with The Princess Bride and continues on Thursdays at 8:00pm through August 17 outdoors on the north lawn of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building. On July 20 is Ferris Bueller's Day Off and on July 27 is Raiders of the Lost Ark. More in August.
Anacostia Community Museum
On July 20 at 6:00pm is Tidewater (2017), about sea level rise in Hampton Roads. An Environmental Film Festival Screening.
On July 28 at 6:30pm is Check It (2016), a documentary about DC's gay gang with film co-director Dana Flor present for Q&A. Location: Anacostia Arts Center, Black Box Theater, 1231 Good Hope Road, SE.
On July 7 and 8 at 8:30pm is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with the National Symphony Orchestra performing the John Williams score.
The Sixth Annual Jane Austen Film Festival takes place on Wednesdays in July. Films are Love and Friendship (2016) on July 5; Sense and Sensibility (1995) on July 12; Emma (1996) on July 19 and Pride and Prejudice (2005) on July 26. Films are shown outdoors at sundown, around 8:30pm.
Angelika Film Center Mosaic
Special events at Mosaic include two recent anime films: Genocidal Organ (2017) on July 13 at 7:00pm and The Irregular at Magic High School The Movie: The Girl Who Calls the Stars (2017) on July 29 at 11:00am and July 31 at 7:00pm.
Several Studio Ghibli films are shown in July. On July 5 at 7:00pm and July 6 at 11:00am is Whisper of the Heart. On July 12 at 7:00pm and July 14 at 11:00am is Princess Mononoke. On July 19 at 7:00pm and July 20 at 11:00am is The Cat Returns. On July 26 at 7:00pm and July 27 at 11:00am is Howl's Moving Castle. Two recent anime films include Genocidal Organ (2017) on July 13 at 7:00pm and The Irregular at Magic High School The Movie: The Girl Who Calls the Stars (2017) on July 29 at 11:00am. A concert documentary American Valhalla (2017) is on July 11 at 7:30pm.
Reel Affirmations XTra
On July 14 at 7:30pm is 195 Lewis (Chanelle Aponte Pearson).