Smile Politely

Exploring municipal fraud on film

At a time when the U.S. is grappling with issues of corruption, transparency, fiscal responsibility, appropriate oversight, and good governance at the highest levels of American government, Kelly Richmond Pope’s critically acclaimed film All The Queen’s Horses reminds us that is also important to pay attention to the same issues in our very own backyards.

All The Queen’s Horses will be screened at the Art Theater in Champaign on May 22nd, 26th, and 27th. As described on the website:

The critically-acclaimed 2017 documentary All The Queen’s Horses investigates one of the largest cases of municipal fraud in American history that occurred in Dixon, IL. Rita Crundwell stole more than $53 million of public funds across two decades in office as the City Comptroller and Treasurer for Dixon, Illinois, a town with a population of just 16,000. She used the funds to build one of the nation’s leading quarter horse breeding empires.

I spoke with Dora Valkanova, the Interim Programmer at the Art Theater about why All The Queen’s Horses was selected for their upcoming Stories From The City, Stories From The State Showcase.

Valkonova explained, “We have been receiving inquiries about the film from people in the community since last year. We have also been following it on the festival circuit. It sold out at the Beloit International Film Festival & at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Reading the positive reviews it received everywhere it screened, we thought it was high time we brought it to audiences in Champaign-Urbana.”

Valkanova also believes that All The Queen’s Horses is a “cautionary tale, openly and implicitly engaging the question of what responsibility every one of us carries in preventing municipal fraud and corruption. It is a riveting documentary that I think will leave viewers with a lot to reflect on.”

I was able to speak with Kelly Richmond Pope, PhD, CPA by phone and our conversation explored the origin of All The Queen’s Horses, the challenges of funding documentary filmmaking, public perception of the final project, and more. In addition to her work as a filmmaker, Pope is an Associate Professor in the School of Accountancy and MIS at DePaul University and founder of Helios Digital Learning.

Smile Politely: How did you first come upon this story? Did you have any contacts of connections to Dixon?

Kelly Richmond Pope: I use a lot of film and television to teach my accounting classes. And I have a company that I founded about six years ago called Helios Digital Learning. My team and I go around the country collecting interviews with whistleblowers, victims of fraud, and white collar felons. We then turn those interviews into video enhanced teaching cases for the academic market. So, while I was working in that film space and heard this story about Rita Crundwell, I said to myself, “Wow, this would make for a great documentary.”  So I applied to the Diverse Voices In Docs Program at Kartemquin Films and started putting the beginning stages of the project together during that program.

Did I have contacts or connections in Dixon? Not at all (laughing). I had never even heard of the community until I heard about the fraud in the news.

SP: What was the timeline from when you said “this would be a great film” to its actual completion?

Pope: It took about five and a half years. It was a long time.

SP: Did it take that long because you had other responsibilities or were there other reasons?

Pope: It was a combination of things. Number one, the case needed to play itself out and be resolved. That was important. Number two, FUNDING! You know these projects are not cheap. So applying for grants means you look at the timeline, apply and you don’t hear back for eight months. Then you find out, more than likely, that you didn’t get the grant. So, you are always looking for funding sources.

SP: This project makes the case that Rita Crundwell may have perpetrated this massive fraud, but the impacts were felt throughout the entire community. In your opinion, how does fraud impact broader community relations and relationships?

Pope: Well, I think Dixon was in shock with what happened. In some ways, the response was similar to the U.S. response after 9/11. The community banded together to seek answers as to how this could happen. After the film screened in Dixon, I think it was appreciated because a lot of the community questions were answered.

SP: The film also makes the point that others in Dixon bore some responsibility for what happened (the Mayor, City Council, banks and accountants, etc.,). What responsibility should the residents of Dixon also bear for the losses the community suffered in the wake of this fraud?

Pope: I think citizens have a significant responsibility. One of the things you will notice in the film is that I wanted people to recognize that yes, Rita did a bad thing. Rita was prosecuted and is in jail. But let’s have a larger conversation about the environment that allowed this to happen and go unnoticed. Let us talk about all the people who played a role in this. That is how you combat fraud. Too often, especially in the media, imprisonment is regarded as the solution, but it doesn’t address the deeper problem.  We need to have real conversations about the true problem.

And I think that is why the film is resonating for so many people, allowing it to become the number one documentary for weeks on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Direct TV, etc.

Furthermore, you can’t think that fraud doesn’t impact you because it does. If a company is defrauded and they either lay off people or raise prices on goods or services, those prices or layoffs get passed on to the community.

So, we need to figure out how to advance another conversation beyond the person who brought the jewelry, had parties and lived a lavish lifestyle. Sure, that sensational aspect is good for five minutes, but what is the community going to be dealing with for the next five months or five years in the wake of this is what we should be talking about. That is the conversation that I hope All The Queen’s Horses brings to the forefront. 

SP: So what is next for this film? And for you?

Pope: Well, the film is being screened around the country, and I am continuing to do interviews and follow stories…but you know funding is always an issue.

SP: Do you accept referrals? If someone thought “…Hmmm, have I got a great story for her..” are you open to that?

Pope: Sure, they can feel free to contact me via my website.    

All The Queens Horses will be screened at the Art Theater in Champaign on May 22nd, 26th and 27th as part of its Stories From The City, Stories From The State showcase. Pope will attend the May 22nd post-screening discussion of the the film. For more information about additional screening, or to purchase tickets, check out the Art Theater website

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