To Catch a Dollar: Muhammed Yunus Banks on America (Shout! Factory, NR)

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tocatchadollar 75If you’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid, this film will confirm that you made the right decision, but if you haven’t, it quickly gets tedious.

Muhammed Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 (jointly with Grameen Bank) for his efforts in developing a microcredit system that makes small loans available at low interest rates to the poor. Those who receive these loans join a group of borrowers, who act as a mutual support group and create a sense of obligation to stay up to date on repaying the loan. Many of the recipients of microcredit are women in developing countries who have used the funds to develop businesses and improve the lives of their families, and whose lives have been transformed by the experience of handling money and running their own businesses.

This system of microcredit allied with social obligation and support has proved a resounding success in the developing world, but can it succeed in America? That is the implied question in To Catch a Dollar: Muhammed Yunus Banks on America, which details the early years of the first American Grameen Bank, established in Queens, New York City, in 2008. The problem is that director Gayle Ferraro doesn’t really ask any questions or offer much in the way of detail, leaving To Catch a Dollar feeling more like a feature-length infomercial than a real documentary film, creating a film that will mainly be of interest among those who are already involved in the cause and want to feel good about themselves, or to show to potential donors who are already favorably inclined toward the cause.

To Catch a Dollar, which played Sundance in 2010, is mainly about the initial stages of Grameen America, from setting up the office to dealing with the specifics of American law and our often perplexing system of social welfare—for instance, someone receiving public assistance has a disincentive to earn money, because not only is their grant reduced, but they endanger their subsidized health insurance if their income rises over a specified level. In addition, the immigrant women who are the focus of Grameen America’s efforts often don’t speak English, and some are suspicious that the deal is too good to be true.

Nonetheless, apparently there is no problem that can’t be overcome with a positive attitude and a catchy slogan, and we’re presented with a lot of both over the course of this film. Again, if you’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid, this film will confirm that you made the right decision, but if you haven’t, it quickly gets tedious. Two recipients of loans are profiled—one a baker, the other a hair stylist—but we never really get to know them. Rather oddly, Alethia Mendez, office manager of the Queens branch of Grameen, is the most vivid character in the film, and you at least feel she’s an interesting person that you’d like to know better.

The disc comes with a number of extras, the most interesting of which are the short film “Sixteen Decisions,” also by Ferraro, and a follow-up visit to the subject of the film (a Bangladeshi woman named Selina) 10 years after she received her first loan. Both are painfully sincere and unquestioning, but they do give you a sense of how a small loan can transform the lives of a woman and her family. Also on the disc: a brief segment on another Bangladeshi loan recipient; a panel discussion on microfinance taped after a screening of To Catch a Dollar; and a series of clips of the peripatetic Yunus making press appearances, delivering speeches, and engaging in panel discussions. | Sarah Boslaugh

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