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‘Bonsai People' opens at Quad Cinema

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Quad Cinema and Hummingbird Pictures present the New York theatrical premiere of the award-winning documentary "Bonsai People: The Vision of Muhammad Yunus," by director, producer and cinematographer Holly Mosher. The film is an insider's view of the profound positive effects of microfinance loans on the lives of five rural women and their families in Bangladesh, the most densely populated country in the world.


The force and inspiration behind microfinance is economist Muhammad Yunus, one of only seven people ever to win the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize. Founder of Grameen Bank ("The Village Bank"), Yunus has made it his life's work to help the poorest of the poor help themselves.


In 1976, during visits to the poorest households in the village of Jobra near Chittagong University, where he chaired the economics department, Yunus found women struggling to support their families, having to take usurious loans from money lenders and village elders to purchase supplies for their work.


Sympathetic to their predicament, Yunus made them a loan out of his own pocket of $27, divided among 42 entrepreneurial Jobra women. With that loan, they earned a net profit of two cents each. Yunus learned that extremely small loans can make a huge difference in the quality of individual lives.


He further observed that women borrowers were more likely than men to be successful and he created a policy that more than 90 percent of the recipients of microloans are to be women. Loans made by the Grameen Bank have an astounding performance rate of 97 percent and have changed the status of Muslim women in Bangladesh.


By repeating these transactions millions of times, Yunus' microfinancing has not only created a broad economic base in Bangladesh, it has established conditions for self-sufficiency among once dependent families in poor nations around the world.


"As I researched and looked into all they were doing," Mosher recalled, "I was blown away. Here is a man who has taken the simplest of ideas and turned it into solving the world's biggest problems that most people find insurmountable."


Inspired by Yunus' vision and generosity, Mosher picked up her camera and headed to Sherpur, Bangladesh, to film the establishment of a new branch of the bank and its effects on five local women over the course of a year. She also follows bank Manager Sumon Alam as he gains the confidence of local village businessmen to attract their investment and teaches the entrepreneurs to guide themselves in mutual support teams, with the aim of keeping the money in the local community.


The film is not without its sobering moments. Mosher reveals late in the film that the government of Bangladesh indicted Yunus on charges of "sucking the blood of the poor." Although these charges were ultimately dismissed, Yunus was forced to retire from his chairmanship of Grameen Bank on the grounds that he was too old and exceeded Bangladesh's age limit for bank executives.


However, the film makes profoundly clear that the greatest part of his work had already been done and is self-perpetuating, with millions of productive women and men as proof of his theories and testimony of his trust in his fellow human beings.


The Quad Cinema is located at 34 W. 13th St. For more information on the film, visit www.bonsaimovie.com.


(Courtesy: New York Amsterdam News)
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