Marc Emery approves this message. That’s not only because he appears at length for an interview specifically for this documentary about his life, it’s because it’s very clear early on that Marc Emery loves to hear himself speak, and believes that anytime he has screen time, it’s good for Marc Emery.
In Citizen Marc, director Larry Evans follows the life of Emery, a Canadian activist and antagonist who may or may not be fighting causes for those not named Marc Emery.
It’s less a fascinating character study and more simply a straightforward documentary that happens to be about a fascinating character. And an aggravating, at times utterly absurd one at that. A champion of the legalization of marijuana in Canada (and presumably around the world), it’s not long into the film that any audiences unfamiliar with Emery, dubbed the Prince of Pot, discover that he is pretty sure of himself and never at a loss for words.
Thus, a man who equates his plight with that of civil disobedience practitioners in the past, who calls the fight for legalization a holy struggle, who claims to have brought more to the province of British Columbia than anyone else, and who is a self-proclaimed publicity seeker, is pretty insufferable. Citizen Marc wants to find out, however, whether or not Emery has done anything positive and if Emery’s myth of himself has any basis in reality.
It’s still tough to watch at times, in that because so much of the documentary entails showing Emery’s past speeches and constantly returns to this main interview with him. It’s simply difficult to keep listening to a person who is exceedingly narcissistic.
Early on we learn that Emery got a radio station hosting job as a young man, and we’re treated to some of his combative demeanor. The rest of the film plays similarly, with Emery hogging all the words and not interested in anything but self-promotion. Were there no context, he could be easily confused with some drunk sitting alone late night at a bar spewing gibberish (comparing yourself to George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. might have that effect).
Then again, that’s partly the point of the film, and it stays seemingly fairly objective and apolitical. What’s interesting too is that Emery may not prove too politically polarizing either (just mentally, emotionally, and morally divisive) in part because he simply attacks all things government and champions all things self-serving. Instead of possessing specific moral values, he fights for the sake of fighting and seeks to make as much money along the way as possible.
I suppose that makes him a capitalist more than anything else. Indeed during a stunning story, Emery casually recalls with some pride about how as a child, he charged friends to play with his toys and swindled them out of what they thought were worthless items, like stamps.
Emery is a preacher and a politician, so how interesting you find him determines your enjoyment of the film. As it wears on, he seems more and more the opportunist, a boastful, clever, and indefatigable crusading man who tells stories about how great his stories are. He also not surprisingly looks stoned a lot of the time.
But opportunist is the right word. He settled in Vancouver having rose to popularity in London, Ontario, figuring the city in need of a marijuana fighter. That fight got him in trouble with not only the Canadian government, but the Americans as well, who wanted to bring him to jail in the U.S. for selling pot seeds across the internet to Americans.
When we get to that part of the story, Citizen Marc does touch on some more compelling issues, such as America’s War on Drugs and incarceration of non-violent drug offenders. But it only touches on these matters because after all, it’s all about Emery. The prospect of a long time in American jail fazes him and while we don’t see a man break his activist façade, we see him doing whatever he can to get out of this frightening punishment, despite having lived so long embracing the threat of jail.
What’s most telling is Emery’s love for comic books. He constantly refers back to a childhood where he adored Spider-Man and so-called good guys fighting something big and ominous. Emery is a vigilante indeed, embracing breaking the law and proudly going to jail – only when it’s for a few days.
In the end, Citizen Marc is as much a biography as it is a promotional tool for a man who loves the camera and would never turn down publicity. The documentary doesn’t take a stand and does well to tell curious tale, but you better believe that Emery would have an opinion if you asked him.
Citizen Marc is indeed an interesting documentary, but its central subject is at times so insufferable and so self-centered that the film itself is a tough watch as you feel guilty feeding into his ego.