(Canada, 85 minutes)
D. Greg Compton
Program: Canadian Spectrum
A story about Canadian provincial government abuse and terrorism that made international headlines in Canada in the 1970s and eighties gets resurrected with an oddly chipper treatment in Eddy’s Kingdom.
The protagonist, Eddy Haymour, a Lebanese-Canadian, now in his late eighties, certainly has a story to tell: In 1971, he bought a five-acre island in Okanagan Lake, B.C. with plans to turn it into a Middle East-style theme park with a camel-shaped ice-cream parlour and a pyramid. The park was in Premier W.A.C. Bennet’s home riding, and the B.C. government thwarted his plan, driving Haymour into debt, and possibly, mental illness. After he sent fake letter bombs to various officials, the government took his island away and committed him to a psychiatric institution. He was released, and returned to Lebanon to plot his revenge. In 1976, he and a group of relatives forcibly occupied the Canadian Embassy in Beirut, holding its staff hostage with AK-47s and grenades, and made a series of demands. At the end of it, he was freed on a nominal bail and flown back to Canada, where he was never charged. What’s more, he got a second chance in court where the judge ruled he had been unfairly forced to sell his property and recompensed for his loss. His last venture was a “Castle Haymour” a mansion and inn in the municipality of Peachland, B.C., overlooking his lost island.
Director Greg Compton’s film is a rather gee-whiz chronological account of Haymour’s life, stitched together with archival photos and talking-head interviews with daughters, lawyers, his second wife, and Haymour himself, a dandyish old man who seems to enjoy his notoriety but continues to see himself as badly wronged. While there are useful insights about Haymour’s immigrant status from journalist Omar Mouallem (who wrote a National Magazine Award-winning profile of Haymour in 2013), the documentary rattles by like an insight-light A&E biography. Curiously, a 1985 segment from CBC’s The Fifth Estate has the same twinkling tone, as if Haymour were an amusing version of Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon.
Haymour is painted as a romantic charmer, an industrious immigrant with a grand vision and, well sure, some personal flaws: To be specific, he assaulted his first wife, kidnapped his children and dumped them in a Lebanese boarding school when there was that several hours long unpleasantness at the embassy. The film includes an interview with one of the hostage victims, chargé d’affaires Alan William Sullivan, who forged a letter from the Minister of External Affairs to bring the crisis to a close. He serves mainly to refute Haymour’s claim that no shots were fired.
The idea here seems to be to portray Haymour as a misguided folk hero but his own single-mindedness and lack of remorse makes viewer sympathy a challenge. A man who believes he had the right to put 33 people’s lives at risk because of his grudge against the government just doesn’t get a pass as a colourful old rogue.
Eddy’s Kingdom screens at Hot Docs’ online festival beginning May 28.