Citizen Black Debbie Melnyk & Rick Caine

Citizen Black Debbie Melnyk & Rick Caine
Alleged embezzler and freelance Canadian Lord Conrad Black gets cross-examined, this time before a movie camera. The release of this acclaimed 2004 documentary coincides with Black’s current trial, which is winding up in Chicago as of this writing. Black and his associates are accused of looting his media company, Hollinger, of more than $60 million U.S. dollars. By chance, filmmakers Melnyk and Caine (Manufacturing Dissent) began this film just as the scandal exploded. Citizen Black upholds Black’s persona as a wealthy snob and pompous bully. However, the movie unveils surprising facets to Black’s character: he suffered from depression until he became a devout Catholic; he is funny and enjoys debate; and though a hardcore conservative, Black admires Franklin D. Roosevelt and sympathises with the Liberal Party. The turning point in Black’s life is Barbara Amiel, the lovely journalist whose snobbery and right-wing politics rival Black’s. Confidantes argue that Amiel has mellowed Black but her indulgent spending also triggered the lawsuits that still plague him. Citizen Black interviews former friends and colleagues, from respected journalists Peter Newman and Christie Blatchford to chummy Maclean’s editor Ken Whyte. All are candid and critical, even sympathetic. The filmmakers score big when they interview Black with his guard down as he launches his FDR bio. More importantly, they steal footage of Black commiserating over the 2003 Hollinger shareholders meeting where he admits he incurred some financial excesses. This footage is electrifying and was subpoenaed by the prosecutors of the current trial. Extended footage is included as a much-deserved special feature. The other extra is more footage of Black’s book launch, which is merely amusing. The filmmakers’ attempts at humour are clumsy, however, and Citizen Black works best when simply telling the story of Black, who is charismatic but ultimately greedy. This enjoyable film won’t change anyone’s opinion of him but you’ll walk away knowing the man, Conrad Black, as opposed to the headline.

Check out Exclaim!'s Web Exclusive with Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine (Mongrel Media)