A film by Shawney Cohen
screens at DOC NYC
a New York City Premiere
Friday November 15, 2013
“There’s more than a faint echo of ‘Grey Gardens’ in this Canadian-gothic portrait of an unusual family business.”
– John Anderson, Variety
A Strip-Bar Mitzvah.
Since The Manor opened the 20th edition of Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival this past spring to major fanfare, and travelling across Canada, and through Europe, first time feature filmmaker Shawney Cohen is now about to unleash his intimate family story to Americans, with its New York City premiere at DOCNYC, Friday November 15, at 9:30pm at IFC.
When Shawney Cohen was six his father bought The Manor, a small-town strip club/motel. Thirty years later, his father has ballooned to 400 pounds, while his mother, at 85 pounds, ironically struggles with anorexia. And Shawney? He’s been a strip club manager for longer than he’s been a filmmaker.
The two career paths dovetail in The Manor, a soul-searching feature debut, where he turns the camera on his father Roger, mother Brenda, brother Sammy, and also on himself, creating an intimate portrait of four people struggling to call themselves a family.
Add in Roger’s right hand man Bobby – a French Canadian criminal with over 50 convictions on his rap sheet – along with a motley crew of patrons, staff, drug-addled tenants, strippers and extended family members, and you have the full cast of The Manor.
Cohen seeks to pinpoint the effect this pile of bricks called The Manor has had on the dynamic of their “nice” Jewish family. In an attempt to gain deeper insight, Cohen spends years filming in a shadowy world of sex, drugs and family feuds. Yet through all the dysfunction Cohen also discovers an enduring desire to maintain the bonds that define a family.
“I don’t consider this a film about a strip club; it’s a film about my family,” says Cohen. “What I originally intended as a summer part-time job at my family’s strip club would end up becoming a full-time job spanning years. The upside is that those years gave me a new understanding of my family, and now a documentary. The Manor aims to be an examination of human nature and addiction,” he adds. “And as a film I believe it will open a lot of eyes and hearts by making the viewer see a little piece of themselves in all the dysfunction.”
The Manor joins an impressive line of documentaries in which the family soul is laid bare, whether by the filmmaker themselves (as in Sarah Polley’s acclaimed Stories We Tell), or from the outside (Capturing The Friedmans, Gates of Heaven, Crumb). For the filmmaker and the viewer it’s a path to understanding the complicated familial pull that can be at once a comfort and a trap.
A talented animator and director of documentary shorts, Cohen spent over two years capturing the kind of private moments only afforded to long-term process documentaries like The Manor. His access is extraordinary and draws you into a film deeply personal, heartbreaking and thought provoking.
Produced by Paul Scherzer, and Executive Produced by Laurie Gwen Shapiro, in association with TVO, along with the assistance of the Shaw Media-Hot Docs Fund and the Tribeca Film Institute.
What The Critics Are Saying:
“rife with gritty stories and marvellously oddball characters”
– Linda Barnard, Toronto Star
“[in] the ranks of some of the best family portrait documentaries.”
– Peter Knegt, indiewire
“rich with character, incident, friction, deadpan humour and voyeuristic thrills.”
– James Adams, The Globe and Mail
“mixing humour and pathos, [director Cohen has] found backhanded redemption by turning his strip-club hell into a compelling piece of filmmaking.”
– Brian Johnson, Maclean’s
“in the vein of Capturing the Friedmans and Crazy Love”
– Lauren Wissot, Filmmaker Magazine
“beyond the boobs and bombast, this is a family drama caught on film.”
– Jason Gorber, Twitch
“Recommend: Yes, yes, a million times yes.”
– Phil Brown, Dork Shelf