Film Review: Bonsai People: The Vision of Muhammad Yunus

One man’s address of worldwide poverty makes for compelling viewing in Holly Mosher’s deeply humane and inspiring, if somewhat simplistic, documentary.

Holly Mosher’s documentary Bonsai People focuses on 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and his work with Grameen Bank, which provides micro-credit—i.e., small loans—to impoverished people (often women). He initially began by lending $27 to 42 women, an effort which has burgeoned into eight million women and eight billion dollars The film takes its title from Yunus’ statement that poor people are like bonsai trees trapped in the too-small pots of their poverty, who have the potential to become big trees if given the proper chances and environment.

Although her film is a little simplistic and marred by superfluous narration, Mosher has assembled some truly inspiring footage of various women who have become self-determining entrepreneurs, effectively dragging themselves up from the direst of situations in Bangladesh. This empowerment of females in a largely Muslim, male-dominated world is especially salubrious, and we see the healthy effect of their success on their spousal relationships and family.

Yunus himself appears throughout the film, doling out the ever-horrifying statistics of worldwide deprivation and his basic, loving philosophy, proving that, for once, here is one banker who truly seems to care about people. However, it is undeniable that he has come under attack, specifically in the 2010 film Caught in the Microdebt, which accused him of exploitation, and has even been ejected from his own bank by the Bangladeshi finance minister. Mosher brings this up at the end of her film, and one dearly wants more information about it. But looking at the evidence of what his work has achieved on an individual basis—his fulfilled ambition of loaning money to one out of every thousand persons on Earth, with a gratifyingly high rate of return—there is no doubting his considerable achievement.