Monday, June 3, 2013

The Manor Premiere

What a wild and wonderful crowd turned up this weekend for the gala presentation of Shawney Cohen’s highly acclaimed documentary The Manor. There was our beloved Sister Christine and a bunch of gals taking up one row, many Bookshelf regulars here and there, and, of course, a great assortment of people whom I didn’t recognize. I think that we were all stunned and amazed by the honesty and the nitty-gritty details, the superb editing and camera work, and the very powerful storyline, which was archetypal in so many ways.

If you had thought that you were coming to a movie about the daily drama of a strip club, you would have been disappointed. This was about the reality of life for the Cohen family:  the battles they fought running the Manor, an adult entertainment complex, and the normal power dynamics that we all confront inside our own families, but taken to extreme limits. The main characters—the father Roger Cohen, the mother Brenda Cohen, the two brothers Shawney and Sammy—were so relaxed in front of the camera and so brutally honest and articulate that I cannot imagine finding any professionals who could have done a more credible job.

Shawney and Roger Cohen and film producer Paul Scherzer

Roger Cohen has been running the Manor since 1985. He is addicted to eating and is so overweight that we even get to accompany him on his stomach-stapling operation. He is also very bossy and opinionated. On the other hand, he runs Sue’s Inn, which provides temporary shelter to people with addictions. His big dream is to develop the land around the Manor into subsidized housing. Brenda Cohen is a devoted mother with a severe eating disorder who is consumed with providing meals for her family. Sammy, the younger brother, is the natural heir to the manor, as he seems to love business, fast cars, and beautiful women. Shawney, the oldest brother and director of the movie, is a tender and philosophical person who stole my heart as soon as I met him.

Food and control, addictions and compulsions: we all have them to various degrees, and they are all alive and in your face throughout the whole movie. I can’t recommend this documentary enough. Some of the most poignant parts for me were the stresses involved in running a business and working with your family. The business really becomes an extra sibling, as the Cohens and the Minetts can both attest to.

The After-Party at the Manor

Shawney invited people from the screenings to the Manor for the after-party, so we headed down just after 10:00. There weren’t too many people there yet but we were amazed by a couple of things: the place is very clean and there were a lot of professional exotic dancers. The service was excellent, and we sat enjoyed our drinks while taking in the ambiance and the crowd. A friend who went to the screening with me is a lighting designer for live theatre, and she thought that the lighting and décor and promo for the movie were pretty impressive.

Roger came and sat with us for a while. He is a very friendly man. He was thrilled that The Manor had opened Hot Docs and said that they were getting calls from around the world to attend festivals. Oliver Stone had called recently. I asked him how the making of the movie had affected the family's relationships. He said that he is closer to his son now than he was before the movie. They really got to know each other. He said that his son didn’t care about money and was a real artist. When I asked him why Shawney was so sweet he said, “He’s just like his mother.”

Shawney arrived with lots of people just before eleven and the place was lively and full. Of course Brenda had an incredible feast laid out for all of her guests and everyone was taking part with gusto. On our way out I thanked them both and told Brenda that she looked well and that her son’s documentary was very powerful. She smiled very ethereally and said, “Thank you.” Roger has lost weight and Brenda has gained weight since the movie has been released. They both looked very proud.

For another view on The Manor, see Andrew's blog on the movie. And you can check out a video of Shawney's introduction and Q&A for the film below:

- Barb

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