Manor documentary to open largest documentary festival in North America
If you’re heading to Toronto this April for the 20th edition of Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, don’t be surprised to catch a naked portrayal of Guelph strip club The Manor.
With The Manor, strip club manager-turned filmmaker Shawney Cohen offers viewers an inside glimpse at what goes on at the film’s family-owned and -operated namesake in a directorial debut that focuses a lens on a cast including a “motley crew of patrons, staff, drug-addled tenants, strippers, and extended family members,” according to a press release. The documentary will open the festival of over 205 films from 43 countries on April 25.
But it probably won’t be what you expect.
“Very little of the ‘strip club movie’ takes place in a strip club,” Cohen told The Ontarion in an interview following a Hot Docs media release that saw widespread media attention given to the idea of the documentary as a film about a strip club. “I think that frankly a film about a strip club would be a little boring.”
Rather, Cohen insists his film is about his family.
“It’s an intimate portrait of my family running a strip club and the consequences of our livelihoods,” said Cohen.
Cohen was six years old when his father bought The Manor, though he spent ten years working as a computer animator following undergraduate studies before becoming a part of his family’s business five years ago.
“I was way more on the fence about [working at The Manor] at the beginning,” Cohen admitted. “I think it was eye-opening for me because it was a life I wasn’t used to and now – five years later – I kind of love it.”
“For me it almost feels like living in a Bukowski novel,” Cohen added. “I kind of appreciated the lifestyle and I think a lot of the stories that come out of there were kind of vulnerable and beautiful, and I found that in many ways just as beautiful as stories you see in literature and film today.”
Cohen says his film is more about those vulnerabilities – specifically those relating to his family. Upon returning home to Guelph after working in Toronto, he found his father grossly overweight at 400 pounds and about to undergo stomach reduction surgery, while at the same time, his 85-pound mother was refusing to acknowledge her relationship with food.
As a result, Cohen says his film has a lot to do with “body image, weight, and addiction.” To him, The Manor is more of an intriguing setting than an actual subject in his documentary. “I found that to be an interesting juxtaposition.”
In the midst of all this, his younger brother Sammy was struggling to run the club.
The entire project required between two and three years of filming, a process Cohen says involved close to 80 or 90 days of shooting.
“I think films of this nature… you really need to film a lot,” said Cohen. “You also wanna get people comfortable with the camera, so it’s important to film a lot and eventually have the camera be a fly on the wall so that when you’re in your hundredth hour of footage people aren’t aware of it.”
It’s a film about Guelph, but don’t expect to see much of the Royal City in The Manor, Cohen says.
“[There’s] a sign that says ‘Guelph.’ That’s the only indication that you know you’re in Guelph. For me it was important to stick to two locations: The Manor, and my parents’ house. And maybe the hospital.” said Cohen.
The Manor will not receive a theatrical release in Canada until May 10, and has only so far been showcased at film festivals around the world. As a result, the film has yet to receive a rating.
Among many more, other films announced on the Hot Docs docket include Gus Holwerda’s The Unbelievers, a film following the studies of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss; Marta Cunningham’s Valentine Road, about an eighth-grader that fatally shoots an LGBTQ classmate; Penny Lane’s Our Nixon, toted as a “revealing look at one of the most controversial presidencies in US history”; and Charles Wilkinson’s Oil Sands Karaoke, a story of oil sands workers that kill time off at their local karaoke bar.
The festival runs April 25 through May 5.
(originally published by The Ontarion on March 28, 2013)