WITH BLACK COP, MULTIDISCIPLINARY ARTIST CORY BOWLES ANNOUNCES HIMSELF AS A TALENTED FILMMAKER
After years in front of a camera and live audiences, Cory Bowles has found a home behind the scenes.
“I love creating things that [actors] can make better,” he says. “I love getting lost in the performance, but I love being outside of it more.”
Bowles, 44, is a multidisciplinary artist. He acted in such productions as Trailer Park Boys and narrated the children’s television show Poko. He’s worked as a dancer and choreographer, performed with hip-hop group, Hip Club Groove, has taught at Dalhousie and Bishop’s University, and directed a few short films and television episodes.
Black Cop is his first foray into feature-film direction. A satire on race relations, Black Cop is the story of the title character who, after being profiled while off duty, starts profiling white residents in the same manner.
Shot completely on location in Halifax over 12 days and released in 2017, Black Cop was originally a short film. The full-length version has drawn praise on the festival circuit, including Best Atlantic Feature and Best Atlantic Director at the 2017 FIN: The Atlantic International Film Festival and Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival. Samuel Goldwyn Films picked it up for on-demand and digital release starting May 1.
After making the original short, Bowles moved onto other projects, but found “this one kept coming back.”
“It’s not so much that you’re the person to tell the story, it’s just that you’re drawn to certain things,” says Bowles, whose writing often focuses on social and power structures and characters in law enforcement. “As a community, [people of colour] aren’t listened to much, so sometimes the best way to be heard is for me to use my platform and knock it from a different angle.”
To tell this story, Bowles incorporated a variety of different camera techniques and views, such as the officer’s body camera and storytelling techniques like dance, traditional storytelling, black folklore and vaudeville.
This desire to tell stories in different ways rather than preforming dates back to Bowles’s early days. “When I was a dancer I knew I had different eye for things,” he says. “I love the storytelling aspect and training aspect of it and before I knew it I knew I was moving more into choreography.”
While he wanted to direct the film himself, Bowles says Black Cop was an undertaking for many reasons, including having to prove his directing abilities. “In the world of directing film and television, it’s often not as trustworthy as it might seem,” he says. “As any other art form, you really have to prove yourself.”
But those who wanted the film to succeed saw its potential. “The people who are really happy about this movie, all wanted it to do what it’s doing,” he says. “I can feel that; I can feel that we wanted it to do well.”
Those backers include Aaron Horton, Black Cop’s producer. It was “such a ride,” he said in an email. “Cory and I clicked creatively and plan on collaborating on future projects.” The duo will now produce films under the Fine Devils Films banner.
Others, who didn’t work on Black Cop, but know Bowles, knew he was up to such a task.
“Cory’s one of those jacks of all trades. He’s brilliant in whatever he picks up,” says Sara Coffin, co-artistic director of Mocean Dance in Halifax. She’s worked with Bowles on a variety of dance projects, including ones he’s choreographed for her company.
“He’s really good at directing people in finding their authenticity and humanity and has the ability to ask the audience to empathize with the performer,” she adds.
Despite his background as an actor, Bowles doesn’t want to put himself on screen and only appears in Black Cop in a small voice-over role. Instead, he wants his characters to speak for the issues he feels needs addressing.
“When I’m writing something, my opinion doesn’t matter, but my perspective does and my questions do,” he says. “My questions are being explored by someone else. I think it’s a bit selfish to have myself in it when there’s many great people out there to work with.”
Along with the critical recognition, audience response to Black Cop has been positive. “There was a lot of dialogue and conversation everyday we screened,” says Bowles. “I heard a lot of sad stories; people relating to it as a person of colour in that situation, but also people who were struggling to understand it”
These connections and reactions, including when FIN had to open a third theatre due to public demand, gave Bowles a sense he was on the right path. “It might sound ridiculous to people, but it was the first time I felt, not even validated that’s not the word, but I always want to do right by the community I’m representing,” he says. “That’s the essence of storytelling.”
Even though Black Cop is still touring festivals and being screened, Bowles “always has something on deck” and is currently working on other projects. These include some choreography and dance as well as teaching, but also a few films. Some of the films will be produced outside of the country or province, while others are a bit closer to home.
He won’t share details, but says the closer-to-home production needed to be done in Nova Scotia. “The one I’m currently writing, that’s location-specific, so it has to be shot here,” he says. “I wouldn’t shoot it anywhere else.”
And while he may not be seen in front of a camera or on stage as often as he used to, Bowles finds every experience helps better his craft. “I learn a lot more as a director than I would as an actor; I’m learning about everything and from everyone [on set],” he says. “As much as they are asking me things, I’m asking them things. They’re all my teachers.”