The concept of founding banks and businesses to help the poor is apparently remarkable enough to have garnered its practitioner, Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Prize, a Congressional Medal of Honor and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Holly Mosher’s well-shot documentary “Bonsai People” explains Yunus’ system of innovative microcredit loans by following the fortunes of several female borrowers (the banks lend almost exclusively to women) in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the docu’s impact is mitigated by the benefactor’s constant presence and paternalistic, infomercial-like exposition.
Borrowers are formed into groups, the women helping each other. Some reach undreamt-of levels of empowerment, taking out and repaying loans for ever more ambitious projects, while others barely weather a series of disasters. Yet the overall gain to the community is great, particularly since Yunus also establishes companies that offer affordable healthcare, nutritious foods and alternative energy. The women’s smiles are as bright as their saris, lending an upbeat note to the entire enterprise. By contrast, Yunus’ beaming visage projects a patronizing, top-down image of problem-solving that contradicts his practices.