“Abacus”: Academy Award Campaign Starts Here

Next month, the eyes of Westport will focus on Justin Paul. The 2003 Staples High School graduate/songwriting wunderkid could win his 2nd consecutive Academy Award — this time for best original song (“This Is Me,” from “The Greatest Showman”).

Most Westporters will not be as excited by the Best Documentary Feature category.

But most Westporters are not Erin Owens.

Erin Owens

She’s a high-ranking executive with PBS Distribution. Part of her job involves promoting Oscar nominees to the people who matter most: the 7,000 voters.

Right now she’s working on “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.”

And she’s doing it right here in Saugatuck.

“Abacus” tells the story of the tiny, family-owned Chinatown community bank that — because it was “small enough to jail, not too big to fail” — became the only financial institution to be prosecuted after the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.

Competition is tough. PBS’ “Abacus” goes up against 4 other documentaries. Two are distributed by Netflix. They spend a lot more money.

But Owens is happy to battle the big boys. (Interestingly, “Abacus” director Steve James also directed “Hoop Dreams,” a film about overcoming great odds.)

So she’s sending James to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco for promotional events. She’s also devising many other ways to make sure that the independent film’s compelling story gets in front of the folks who count.

Owens and her husband Mark Kirby moved to Westport 3 years ago. She worked with Long Shot Factory, a distribution and consulting company specializing in documentary ad and educational campaigns.

She particularly enjoyed her PBS projects. Last January, she began working full-time, in-house with them.

It’s a short walk from her home in Saugatuck to Westport Innovative Hub — the popular co-working space on Ketchum Street.

Owens’ 2 partners work remotely too — from Woodstock, New York and North Carolina. Together, they’re pushing “Abacus” as hard and far as they can.

This is not Owens’ first Academy Award race. She spearheaded “Waste Land” in 2010 and “Hell and Back Again” in 2011, and worked on 5 other campaigns.

Voting takes place February 20-27. The Oscars ceremony is March 4.

Justin Paul may grab the headlines the morning after.

But don’t count out “Abacus.”

(“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” is available for free on Amazon Prime, and by clicking here.) 

4 responses to ““Abacus”: Academy Award Campaign Starts Here

  1. Good luck, Erin Owens! We did see “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” – it was very well done – everyone should see this. Amazing story in light of what happened in 2008.

  2. Abacus is a great documentary, riveting. I hope they win!

  3. Great documentary! Incredibly well done!

  4. Go Erin! Hope you win–well deserved!

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