Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Breakthrough Jew – Shawney Cohen

Cohen is the director of Award-winning documentary ‘The Manor’, following a peculiar Jewish family’s attempt to nurse their relationships and themselves back to health while running a small-town strip-club.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: September 12th, 2013 in Culture » Film » News

Hot, hip, and heady, the next wave of Jewish artists and influencers has already arrived. This is Breakthrough Jew, your weekly showcase of those on the verge of discovery and ready to be a regular figure in pop culture; setting trends, redefining genres, and simply getting it done-whatever ‘it’ is. These days, it’s not enough to know what’s hot now; you need to catch someone when they’re just starting to simmer.

Featuring those in film, fashion, food, and beyond, we’ll find the story before substance is obscured by style, before hype meets backlash, and before talent and purpose gets lost in a maze of Internet chatter. See an artist in the cozy bar before they hit the amphitheater, dine at a chef’s new restaurant before the line begins, and catch a young writer’s work before the demands of ratings and longevity encroach.

Follow our lead and we’ll follow yours – send us tips or suggestions via email, comment below or tweet us @ShalomLife, as we explore the Jewish landscape for pop culture pioneers.

Name: Shawney Cohen

Age: Late 30’s

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Breakthrough Cred: Directed the award-winning documentary The Manor

Shawney Cohen has worn an eclectic array of hats, so to speak, and he’s not even forty yet. After spending more than a decade working as a digital animator and CG supervisor on films like Dawn of the Dead, A History of Violence, and Four Brothers, Cohen was at the end of his tether. He made the conscious decision to take a break from his career, and work at the family business, which just so happens to be a strip club in Guelph, Ontario called “The Manor”.

“I reached a point in my early thirties where I was just kind of trying to figure out what to do. But I always kind of avoided the strip club. It was part of my life, but I just reached a point where my parents were in their sixties and I didn’t spend much time with my brother, so it seemed like a good idea to try working there. In retrospect, just jumping into that business was a bit naive because I had no experience. I thought it would be an easy gig, but it wasn’t. It was tricky,” Cohen explained to Indiewire.

Tricky indeed, considering that in his first week at the club, he intervened in an altercation, and was subsequently tossed through a glass window. Rightly so, Cohen flirted with the idea of quitting, but instead, decided to tough it out. Almost a year into his gainful employ at the club, Cohen picked up his camera and proceeded to film his father.

“The first thing I shot was my father. He was 400 pounds sitting in his office, smoking a cigar, speaking in Hebrew, swearing and I had my camera and I just started filming him. I had no intention of making a film. He just jumped into the lens,” Cohen told Toronto Film Scene.

What resulted was nearly three years of filming, which equated to over 200 hours of footage. Undaunted, Cohen spent 15 months editing said footage, and finally, The Manor emerged.

“The core of the film is really about my parents’ relationship. It wasn’t until I began filming my mother that I knew that there was an important story here. She struggles with addictions and eating disorders and I felt that she rarely talked about it in public. She didn’t talk about it with us. She was very private about it. The second I started filming her, it was amazing. She just opened up to the camera in a way I didn’t expect. I thought that was important for her. She began to use the camera as a therapeutic tool to tell us how she felt about her life and her relationship with my father and the strip club. The film is really about their relationship and everything else — the bar, my brother and I — are just a dimension of that,” Cohen explained to Indiewire.


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