By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
June 5th update: Black Cop is now available on iTunes and will be released to VOD on the 19th!
Making the journey West, fellow Trailer Park Boy, Cory Bowles will appear on Vancouver Island for the 2018 Victoria Film Festival to answer questions about his debut film, Black Cop. This multi-talented performer turned director is not looking to change the world, but he has a lot to say in this drama he wrote. It is filled with sociological concerns and his interest in examining his ethnic roots. For younger audiences interested in his other projects, he can be heard narrating the CBC stop-motion children’s animated series Poko. This show can be found in syndication.
Before he appeared on screen, he was performing on stage. He’s a professional dancer and choreographer. He trained in Africa, Brazil, States, and Canada. Much about what he’s learned hails from his heritage and he’s polymorphed it into the products he’s created since.
He’s worked for Halifax-based Contemporary Dance Company Verve Mwendo and Calgary-based Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. “I studied since I was 18. What I learned was a backward trajectory which started with breakdancing, and that developed into what we know as modern street dance. In addition to appearing in Trailer Park Boys, I’m a musician and teacher.”
Back when Bowles started, he had a lot on his plate. He’s not as active with songwriting and releasing new works these days. When he’s one of the faculty at Dalhouse and Bishop university, he’s training a new generation of talent. When I interviewed him for Absolute Underground Magazine, he said he’s been developing the same album since 2012. Eventually, it’ll get produced. When folks look at his discography, one act he’s often associated with is Aide du Camp.
“That started in 2003 and being with them was cool. I was their bassist. I had fun playing with them. We broke up in 2007; it fell apart when the record deal came. [Since then,] I’ve been in a bunch of bands. For me, I signed with a label called Murderecords back in 94 with a hip-hop group … they morphed into a sort of large pop band called Len. Afterwards, I was just playing with a lot small, underground groups.
“More recently, I’m with a group called Bloodbath. We play Halloween themed covers — we’ll perform The Exorcist, Gremlins and stuff like that. It’s a little fun side project put together by members of others groups. We had a pretty good following and offer a lot of hijinks on stage, like blood and spraying audiences with guts and things like that. We played a lot but now, we get together around maybe twice a year. I’m also with a little band called Wolly Nazareth,” revealed this artist.
With his longtime association with the show Trailer Park Boys, to learn what’s coming is no doubt on the minds of many especially concerning the passing of an actor considered to be like the Darth Vader of the series. He also explains how his skills as a musician come into play with other works. Switching interview-style formats, this producer said:
Cory Bowles: From a director’s point of view, you know the three main characters Rick, Bubbles and Julian are three of the most sensitive, most self-conscious people I’ve ever worked with. Especially with Ricky (Rob Wells); he doesn’t know how funny he is a lot of times. He’s hard on himself for the work he does, and we try not to laugh at it. He’ll get really upset and takes it. When something didn’t work for him, we’ll be saying, “No, it’s great. We’re moving on.” He really is an amazing athlete and I think he’s got that same sort of mentality he brings [into the role].
ES: How is an episode assembled?
CB: It’s like producing music in the same way that you’re structuring a tune so you can work within it. You’re OK to cut this dope song in [from anywhere]. It’s kind of like that you know we know where the courses are going to be. Like when a break is needed or when the plot is going to resolve. Oddly enough, I find it hard to make a beat.
ES: How have things changed since the original director Mike Clattenburg left? He’s still credited, but …
CB: Oh, a lot. It’s funny because Mike is obviously a big mentor and idol of mine. Now, there’s so much happening at the creative level with the whole group working together as opposed to one person bringing ideas in and having others at it.
Personally, in my role in directing, my goal is to honour what Mike did. We were in a sort of sitcom format which was more related to the movies that he was doing at the time. I study his stuff as much as possible and a lot of times we will add new directors. When we do, we will change the dynamic no matter what, because everyone has a different touch on what the show or scenes are to them, and for the newer directors that haven’t been there when Mike was, they have to jump right in and move differently than he did, what his pace and timing was.
ES: Are there any other influential people in your life?
CB: Spike Lee’s early works are just awesome. Bob Fosse, who appeared in Chicago, Damn Yankees and Sweet Chariot, is a real trendsetter. He pushed for a lot of things. Richard Pryor’s style of comedy and the things he talked about was hardcore. I love them all. Nina Simone is another person who is very important to me. She’s a singer, songwriter, and social activist of the early Civil Rights Movement.
ES: How has Netflix changed the show?
CB: It gave us a whole new audience. It’s a lot looser than when we were on network television. They had a certain set of rules and a template we had to follow. Netflix gives you a lot more leeway. And there’s no cliffhanger anymore. We’ll tape the show in March and then we will finish a show in the summer [to deliver a complete season to them.] We’ve finished the editing round Christmas. You can’t fix mistakes. That’s different. There was a big learning curve because of how Netflix wants their product delivered prior to release.
ES: How do you think the show defined part of the Canadiana landscape?
CB: It’s a hard one to answer because we aren’t outside of the show. I can’t really say what Canadiana is; I think a large part is that it revolves around people we were around and places we are all from. I’m from a trailer park, the same we shoot the new seasons in actually. That seems real because it is. Jono is from small-town P.E.I. The parks are all kind of similar. We exaggerate off course, but we always have people tell its which character is like someone they know. It’s flattering when we hear that it’s part of Canadian but if anything, Canadiana (especially East coast) defined our show. That is what makes our show a bit special.
ES: How would you say the East Coast differs from the West.
CB: We have some our own slang that’s a little bit different than the accents. But it’s funny, there are some elements of the West Coast that is quite like the East Coast. I would say especially Victoria is kind of like a weird brother or weird sibling of Halifax. I thought we were laid back, but I find everyone’s pretty easy going and pretty cool out there in the West; there’s a stronger urb culture out there that’s for sure. A stronger weed culture [laughs].
I find being out in British Columbia is one of the most relatable places I’ve ever been in. When I see certain aspects of logging or forestry taking place, especially on water, I’m reminded of those little fishing towns I see in Nova Scotia. The air is nice there and the air is nice here. The people are cool there and the people are cool here.
ES: What’s in the future for Trailer Park Boys?
CB: We’re not really going have big things happen. It was really hard for us when we lost John Dunsworth this past year, this past fall. It’s different when people leave the show. It really didn’t feel right for us to continue a show as it is without John there. We have some things planned, though. The producers have talked to me about some of the specials and things like that. We may make another movie, but we’ll see.
ES: When did you decide to become a director?
CB: I’ve been working on that side of things in theater and as a choreographer since about ‘96. It was a natural progression for me. I can add in whatever I know about any other piece of work I’ve done.
ES: When compared to your other careers, how did that balance out?
CB: I started to not want to dance so much. There are times where I just wanna watch. Also, I thought I was done with acting. I only resumed when I went back to the show and then, suddenly, I was appearing in a bunch of other programs. At the same time, I directed short films — hitting the odd commercial or a music video.
ES: And from the short, Black Cop developed into being a feature, correct?
CB: Short films are like good songs whereas a feature is like a big epic. With a short film, you can push the limits and explore a lot of stuff that you don’t normally get to do. It’s pretty fringe too. I find telling a cohesive challenging story in ten minutes Is hard. It’s dope when you get it done.
Originally Black Cop was going to be a feature. And then once when I made the short, I realized how I wanted to make the feature. There are things that show up in the short almost that’s the same as the feature.
ES: How would you describe this unnamed protagonist (played by Ronnie Rowe Jr.) in this piece?
CB: He’s the anti-hero, a character of vengeance, an angel of vengeance — all be it a little misguided. misdirected maybe.
ES: What was the reception like when it premiered at TIFF 2017?
CB: Amazing. We sold out every screening at Toronto. Each was different. Like the first night, it was electric and really tense. The second night, there was a lot of laughter in the most uncomfortable places. And the third night, it was quiet. A lot of conversations took place in our Q&As.
A lot of people are looking at my film in their own world perspective. They were asking what good comes out of him doing that? They miss the point of what I’m presenting. I’m putting the shoe on the other foot. When we screened in Chicago, reactions were crazy. When we screened it in Kansas, a red state, a lot of Republican types came up to me and said, “I didn’t look at it [the ideas presented in the film] that way.”
I’ve had officers come in with the idea that it was going to be a complete rail against them, or be ready to scrutinize it. Instead, it turned out a lot of times they’ve said: “I get what you’re saying, I get it.” Some have told me that they felt like they’ve watched a part of what they go through.
Yeah but it’s certainly not an anti-police thing because the character is a police officer and that’s what he’s that’s he’s sworn to do and wants to do. But this film is being critical of that role and that job, and the grey area around it when it comes to a marginalized community. It’s challenging; it should be. At the end of not all, it’s a movie that explores a unique and complicated experience. I don’t really understand, I can’t – but I can explore, and that is what this movie does.
I mean that’s all you can really do. I think it’s a big order to change life for the better. I want to make work that is an experience that you can take something away. And I think that’s the role of making art. Just giving an experience and having a conversation is all I can do.
ES: It’s not like the early days of cinema where we have Charlie Chaplin injecting social commentary in everything he makes.
CB: Yeah, that’s it. That’s the whole thing about the early art and music… even the stuff with social media. Sure, it’s an escape. I’m influenced by how they tackle issues with humour. There’s a huge, important place for that type of social commentary in theatre, before in dance, before it brought into the chambers — that was the language of the poor.
ES: In closing, is there anything you like to say to our readers?
CB: Keep it real. Keep it right. We are in good times right now. Even though they’re scary and weird, we are in times where things are out in the open [for us to hear about]. And it’s happening in our generation. Voices are important, and voices got to be heard. Yes, it can be scary. Take a stand, of course.
NOTE: Thanks to Ira Hunter, editor-in-chief of Absolute Underground Magazine, for allowing me to print this interview in full, ahead of the print publication. This piece will also eventually appear on absoluteunderground.tv