Drawing the Line: A Review of Ruben Östlund’s Palme D’Or Winner, The Square

Ruben Östlund’s The Square, winner of this year’s Palme D’Or, satirizes the world of modern art and its empty commitment to progressive social ideals. It is a series of comical, often surreal, sketches, with all narrative threads leading back to Christian (Claes Bang), the handsome curator of Stockholm’s X-Royal museum of contemporary art.

At the start of the film, Christian is pickpocketed in the centre of a public square. Together with a co-worker, he tracks his stolen phone online. Genesis by Justice blares in the background as he drives his Tesla to the apartment block where the phone is located and, in this moment, enmity is born under the guise of right. Once Christian reaches the apartment, he slips accusatory messages into each unit’s mail slot in hopes of reaching the criminal.

Just as all of this strange personal business is going on, Christian acquires an artwork for the museum called “The Square”.  It is a small space cordoned off by four light-up lines with a plaque that reads: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within its boundaries, we all share equal rights and obligations.” In an interview, Östlund compares “The Square” to the crosswalk; it is a “humanistic traffic sign,” meant to remind people of their role as fellow human beings. Passionate about the piece, Christian argues for the strength in its brute simplicity. But once ‘The Square’ is introduced, its meaning hangs heavy over Christian; it clings to the character as a leech, slowly deprecating his moral pretensions until they are laid bare.

Östlund’s art world in is dominated by ego, wealth, and the claim to be cutting edge. ‘The Square’ captures something of its hollow charm. Four lines delineate a space of social obligation but its emptiness stands in stark contrast to Stockholm’s sidewalks, filled with the homeless and the hungry. The art world is vacant; it aims at nothing; its obligation is solely to itself. In the other exhibit, piles of gravel sit before a sign that reads: “YOU HAVE NOTHING”. It seems as though the art world takes pleasure in being reminded of its impotency, and humble servility to its own nothingness. When a janitor accidentally sweeps up some of the artist’s gravel, we recognize the absurdity of it all.

Still, Christian is not a bad guy, although his intentions are steeped in ego and ignorance. Östlund doesn’t condemn the artistic enterprise altogether, but aims to illustrate just how complicated intentions and artistic expressions can be in a world where we do not all share equal rights and obligations. He brings a series of moral questions to the fore. What is one’s role as an actor? Who is one responsible to?

He forays with confidence into these age-old queries, but his answers seem to change based on the time and place of their asking. In one scene, a man with Turrets yells obscenities at an artist being interviewed at the gallery. Speakers and audience members strain to remain tolerant; this is, after all, a “neurological disorder” and certainly this man deserves respect. But on the street, this same demographic feels no need to go out of their way to accommodate those less fortunate. Each day on his way to work Christian ignores the woman that stands in a public square, asking over and over again: “Do you want to save a human life?”

Östlund also examines the way power can alter feelings of obligation. Christian is a dominant figure. He sleeps around without much concern for his bed partners and acts unselfconsciously, assuming that others respect his every decision. But power is not a static force. It shifts between individuals. When Christian condescends to buy a sandwich for a homeless woman, he assumes the role of a kind, socially conscious citizen. But when the woman responds with a demand, she will have a chicken ciabatta, no onions, the balance of power shifts. Christian is taken aback by her assertive attitude. Is she not embarrassed? Grateful? Christian quickly attempts to restore his position of power by refusing to grant her request for no onions. The comedy of the scene almost camouflages its thematic significance, the way these two figures negotiate power and how that negotiation determines their lines of commitment.

Östlund concocts a variety of scenarios to test his characters, to reveal their obligations and the factors that pollute them. The Square is lengthy, the sort of film one thinks is about to end at least four times. Eventually it does, but it offers no real conclusion, no closure. Still, one cannot accuse Östlund of despair.

“The Square” looms heavy but not only to illuminate Christian’s moral weakness. Östlund takes the Levinasian view of social obligation. His characters understand that they enter the world always already responsible to those around them, and they search for meaning in that responsibility and the impossibility of escaping it. They realize that there is no autonomy, no pure, unsullied interiority, when they live, breath, and perform before the eyes of the Other. “The Square” dares to meet that gaze; it dares to think it possible.

A Conversation with Geoff Pevere on Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival

The scope of conversations on mental health and mental wellness is widening. I’m thankful for that. It’s hard to find an outlet where one can share their experiences safely and be met with understanding. A real understanding, not just an apologetic comment along the lines of ‘sorry you’re having a rough time right now. Understanding from people who have firsthand experiences to match your own.

The Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival is the first mental health film festival of its kind with the largest reach in the world. This is something Toronto can be proud of. We had the opportunity to chat with Geoff Pevere, the festival programmer, to get a glimpse of what to expect in this years line-up.

Kimberley Drapack: You are celebrating 25 years. What can we expect from this year’s festival?

Geoff Pevere: We’re sticking to the formula that has worked for us over the years which is presenting films from around the world that provide an opportunity for people to talk about their own experience or people that they know and to approach the subject of mental health, recovery and addiction from as many different angles as possible. It’s really important that the films are not just shown on their own but as an opportunity for people to discuss their own experience.

We have a number of different discussions and events taking place which hopefully will only enhance people’s appreciation of the films we’re showing.

K: Rendezvous is the first and largest mental health film festival in the world. Tell us more about that.

GP: The festival began 25 years ago and it was the iniative of Workman Arts, which is 30 years old. It was founded by two nurses two were working CAMH at the time. When they witnessed people, who had mental health issues, and when they had the opportunity to be as creative as they wanted to be and in the way they wanted to be, it was something that was meaningful and helpful to them. It helped them to express themselves. The idea came up to start the film festival and we gathered films across the world, documentaries, short film that document mental health issues. It was the first event of its kind. It is the oldest event of its kind.

It’s something that Toronto should be way prouder of, given the fact that the mental health conversation is wider as it’s ever been, you think they would credit that we were there first. Rendezvous is a terrific festival. Unlike any of the other film festivals that take place in Toronto because it has such a tight focus and it can have such a personal impact.

K: I think often people find it difficult to speak about mental illness. But I think we’re doing a lot better now in opening up conversations so that people can share their experiences.

GP: Almost all mental health issues share a feeling on the part of the person who is experience it that they are alone. That nobody understands them and that they are isolated. The most important thing you can do to open up conversation and make people feel comfortable talking about the films and to those who are close to them.

We show terrific films, but most importantly, we give people the opportunity of taking the experience of watching the film and applying it to their own lives. We hope they leave there with a stronger sense that there are other people going through what they are around the world, everyday.

K: It brings a community aspect to it that they wouldn’t necessarily find at most places.

GP: What a lot of film festivals do is focus on the films, which is understandable, but a lot of them are very specific in terms of their audience and their outreach. For example, you have indigenous film festivals, LGBT film festivals, etc. This is one that is different because the focus is on these conversations and the films are important because they provide the opportunity. These are films that are designed to stimulate conversation, and that is what gives Rendezvous its distinction.

It’s sometimes challenging to make your presence and your identity known in a city that is crowded with events and film festivals. Getting the message out about what we’re doing and why it’s different is hard. There are people who will roll their eyes or turn away, simply because of the words, “mental health.” They think it’s going to be heavy, they think it’s going to be dark, and yes, some are, but I would argue that they all provide a compelling experience that will allow people to reflect on their own and share it with people that are there.

K: How do you stay true to the story without over-sensationalizing the plot?

GP: We try to reflect as many perspectives as possible, but if I’m looking at something which I feel is simply taking advantage of someone’s mental health, either for the occasion of comedy, or horror, and people are not being treated in a way that helps us understand them, then we are looking at an over sensationalizing of the plot.

Our films do not exploit their subjects, but are curious about their subjects and they allow their subjects to be considered as objectively as possible. We try to steer clear of the sensationalizing because as great as these movies have been about opening up our understanding of mental health issues, in many cases, what they have done is reinforce a stigma. The idea that crazy people should be locked away, and psychotic people are all serial killers – all those things are absolutely incorrect and unfortunately, they are presumptions you see still a lot in film.

K: What criteria are you looking for when choosing a film for the festival?

GP: The process begins by going to the major festivals early in the year and seeing what they’re showing. Festivals like Sundance, Berlin, and South by Southwest, is usually where we begin to look for things. We also have contacts with a lot of distributors around the world who we have worked with, and we send out notifications to them that we are looking for things.

We also have an open submission policy. In the last two years, I’d say that we’ve had 250 films that were submitted from around the world. We try to watch as many as we can, but we don’t watch everything because if it is in the category of pure sensationalism, we’re not interested, or if it’s not something that looks like it will generate a terribly interesting conversation.

I’m looking for films that, when you put them all together in the context of a single festival, provide the most opportunity to see the way the world is thinking about mental health at the moment.

You will find films in our festival from Bulgaria, England, Turkey, Iran, Australia. I’m looking for a balanced program, something that is well represented, and films that people are going to react to and want to discuss afterwards.

K: You have a really wide scope. Is there a short time period in which you need to produce your line-up?

GP: We arrive at the first draft of the line-up in late July. From April to July I am mostly just looking at images of mental health issues. I’m laughing because people always ask me, “do you worry about what the effects of might be on you?”

The fact is, it’s a good question, but I can get so excited and stimulated by something I recognize as saying something that either hasn’t been said before or is being said in an interesting way. That to me is really thrilling to see. That, contributing to my own stability, which is precarious at the best of times, but mostly, I’m looking for things that are challenging and that are exciting.

The impact on me watching these films makes me think: maybe I’m crazy, but it makes me want to see more.

K: Tell us about the opening film, Mad to be Normal. Why was this given the top spot?

GP: I was curious when I saw Mad to be Normal because it is a portrait of a few years in the life of the guy who was known as the head of the “anti-psychiatry” movement in the 1960’s. His name was R.D. Lang, and was really well known. He was notorious in London for a facility he ran which was a combination of a psychiatric hospital and commune. He mostly kept patients there who were suffering from schizophrenia. He refused to medicate them and restrict what they were doing and encouraged them to practice art. As a result of this he became extremely controversial and shut out by the psychiatric community. The interesting thing is, that a lot of what R.D. Lang was trying to point out about schizophrenia, which is not a disease that is manifested the same way in any two patients, and that you simply can’t medicate people because in many cases it means that people are verging on catatonic.

R.D. Lang is played in the film by David Tennant, a Scottish actor known from Jessica Jones and Dr. Who. It’s interesting because it’s a portrait of psychiatric practice in the past that was considered radical that now looks extremely compelling and keys in with the ways people are thinking today about mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

It has some big movie stars, David Tennant and Elizabeth Moss, and for our opening night, it feels like the perfect opportunity. The film maker, Robert Mullen, who knew R.D. Lang, is going to be joining us for a conversation.

K: What is your criteria for what shows will open and close the festival? Is there a harder slot to fill?

GP: With both opening and closing night, you tend to get more people who are not normally going to the festival and seeing other films, not exclusively. These events tend to bring people out because they are opening and closing night events. We try to present films that are accessible and interesting to general audiences as possible.

The closing night film this year is a really touching personal movement by a film maker who knew a young man who committed suicide when he was in high school because he was suffering from schizophrenia. He felt alone and didn’t know what to do. Any attempts to integrate him or make him feel belonging in society we’re not something that worked for this child. The connection is with the film maker who knew him and the story will suggest to people a lot of their own personal experiences from the past.

The film, Holden On, stimulates discussion and conversation but is extremely compelling and is the kind of movie that doesn’t require a ton of preparation or experience to understand or enjoy it.

K: There is a strong presence of female filmmakers in the program. Is that important to you when you’re trying to diversify the lineup?

GP: We of course are looking for films that represent perspectives and points of view that are underrepresented. Having said that, it wasn’t a plan for the films to have as many women directors or as many women subjects as we found this particular year. It just seems to be that there is a surge in filmmaking activity made by women, dealing with mental health issues. This is really interesting and shows that the conversation is opening up. For years and years, a woman’s mental health experience was exclusively talked about largely by the psychiatric community by male doctors, and largely influenced by Sigmund Freud.

All of these things are now up for grabs and changing and it’s so exciting to see these films. I’m proud to say that it’s not something we went looking for, but there just happened to be so many that were so good.

K: What can we expect from the short films within the line-up?

GP: Either shorts will work as an introduction to features, or in some cases, you see a collection of short films all dealing with the same subject and you realize that if you put these films together, they themselves will make an interesting program.

We have a program that is called Women on the Verge, which is 5 different films about women and made by women that deal with mental health experience. There is another program called Frontiers, which are documentaries from different countries that are all exploring the idea of alternative treatments.

If the short films seem to lend themselves to a designated program, we will do so accordingly. Another thing we’re doing this year, before most of the films, is were going to be showing films made by the individuals of Workman Arts, which is an organization that consists of people with mental health experience creating art. We’re proud to show those short films throughout the festival as part of the 30th anniversary.

It’s frustrating, but it’s also a good problem to have, that the last 3 years I have been doing this, I have more films that I want to show then I have room to show. This is one of the most exciting areas of filmmaking right now.

K: Is there anything you’d like me to include that we haven’t touched on yet?

GP: I would encourage people to go to the website, www.rendezvouswithmadness.ca, take a look at the program and please come down to 651 Dufferin and take it in. If you are curious about any of this or are looking for good films, or if you suspect there is something in the film that pertains to your own experience, or trying to understand something, by all means, come down. We probably have something for you.

Painting the Screen: A Review of Loving Vincent

Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s Loving Vincent is the world’s first oil painted film. Over one hundred artists contributed to its animation, creating a series of 65,000 oil-painted frames in Van Gogh’s neo-impressionist style. Well worth the effort. The result is both striking and bizarre. We enter the world as Van Gogh saw it, crooked, swirling, and filled with feeling.

Loving Vincent is not so much a biopic as a murder mystery. The majority of the plot is set after Van Gogh’s death. Postmaster Roulin (Chris O’ Dowd) sends his son Armand (Douglas Booth) to deliver a letter to Van Gogh’s brother Theo. Though Armand fails to find Theo, he becomes obsessed by the ambiguities surrounding Van Gogh’s death. Armand questions Dr. Gachet, Adeline Ravoux, and Dr. Mazery in search of answers, and these familiar faces from Van Gogh’s portraits come to life. Ultimately we are given the impression that Van Gogh might well have been shot. “Blame no one,” says Vincent on his deathbed.

Whenever an artist/filmmaker makes a bold decision with method or technique, we are left to wonder whether it was a brilliant innovation or if we had been duped, lured in by the weird and wonderful at the expense of meaningful content.

Is this film a gimmick or a masterpiece? The storyline, which offers little character development, seems like an excuse for an ambitious artistic experiment. We never get inside Van Gogh’s head, but we see the world through his eyes.

Still, there is something refreshing in using Van Gogh’s vision to create distance from his inner life. Van Gogh has been pegged as the quintessential tortured artist; we have turned him into an archetype, a cultural meme. For the most part, we are content with this two-dimensional rendering, as it is romantic, and familiar, and it allows us to identify our own darkness with possible brilliance. But Kobiela and Welchman resist.

In an online review of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ MoMa writes: “To know van Gogh is to get past the caricature of the tortured, misunderstood artist and to become acquainted instead with the hardworking, deeply religious, and difficult man.”

This, Loving Vincent achieves. We are spared the director’s rendering of Van Gogh’s inner life, which no one but Van Gogh himself could ever hope to express. Instead, the camera turns outward. He is brought to life through the eyes of other characters; Van Gogh assumes a social identity and we see in him what other’s see; he paints in the rain, he’s shy around women. By allowing others to imagine Van Gogh through his own aesthetic, Kobiela and Welchman seem to suggest that all individual perceptions are as slanted and emotionally charged as Van Gogh’s. In fact, this is what makes the mystery of his death so difficult to solve. Everyone has their own story.

But perhaps Loving Vincent’s greatest achievement is that it provides its audience with an entirely new experience of familiar images. We move through Van Gogh’s artworks. There are moments on screen that approximate specific paintings, I can recall an almost replica of Van Gogh’s ‘Marguerite Gachet at the Piano’. But then we are given more. We are given a perspective of Marguerite as Van Gogh approaches her window, we watch as she moves towards it, and we stand by her side as she smokes a cigarette. We occupy new spaces in the rooms Van Gogh had previously painted and we discover his subjects in different contexts.

As I thought about the effect of Van Gogh’s work on screen, I recalled Walter Benjamin’s essay, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In it Benjamin looks at film’s potential to radically change our relationship to all arts. We stand alone as individuals before a painting. But we view films in a theater, surrounded by others. Nobody walks out of a film and feels unqualified to judge what they have seen. Film, as a medium, invites us to form collective conceptions, to feel collectively.

A collective viewing of Van Gogh’s work (or its likenesses) feels particularly meaningful in 2017. Van Gogh is now a canonical artist. Seeing a work by Van Gogh is not simply about enjoying a painting, but about taking part in a larger movement, participating in cultural memory and conversation. Surrounded by others in the theatre we can feel ourselves doing just that, on more than one level.

While we have grown to appreciate impressionist painters as masters of fine art, we do not often look to animators with the same kind admiration. The crew of artists involved in this film approximate Van Gogh’s style, sometimes very closely, but their work remains unique, a variation on a theme. In the end Loving Vincent is not only a nod to the work of Van Gogh, but a loving ode to the art of animation; animation as masterpiece.

Socially Conscious Horror Movies

For me, Halloween has always been for horror. The scary and the creepy and the bone chilling are exactly what I want to enjoy during this time of year. Of course, we’re living in some particularly scary times, so it may feel a little dull to watch the usual zombie and serial killer fare. Even if you do want to find some good old classic horror, you may also find yourself frightened by some sexism and racism present in older horror flicks (and some newer releases, sadly). So, what to watch? Socially conscious horror, of course, because nothing is scarier than social inequality. Here are some of my picks:

Get Out

Hopefully you’ve seen comedian Jordan Peele’s amazing directorial debut, but if you haven’t, you really should. Peele skewers white liberals, particularly those in the North, reminding them that just because they may have supported Obama or say they aren’t racist, they still help perpetrate racism and white supremacy in the United States. This form of white liberal racism can be just as insidious as the other.

It Follows

We all know the classic horror trope. Young person (especially young women) has sex. Young person is punished for having sex. Virgin girl gets to stay alive because she has not had sex. It Follows turns this tropes on its head, using the story of demon passed from person to person as something of a metaphor for our social anxieties about sex, sexuality, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Gerald’s Game

Most horror films are notoriously bad at dealing with rape and sexual assault. Women’s bodies get used and abused to prompt the male hero into action, or worse, for torture porn and titillation. The fallout of sexual assault and the trauma that accompanies it so rarely discussed, not only in horror but in most films. That’s what makes Gerald’s Game, based on the book of the same name by Stephen King, so unique. I don’t want to spoil the film, but it navigates trauma and empowerment with more clarity and realism than I’ve ever seen.

Perfect Blue

This 1997 Japanese animated movie, based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and directed by Satoshi Kon, tells the story of a former J-pop idol named Mima Kirigoe, who is attempting to change her carefully manufactured image while being stalked by a crazed fan. Perfect Blue not only tries to examine the nature of truth and reality, but also carefully critiques the ways in which women are made to be consumed products.

The Handmaiden

Technically The Handmaiden, directed by Park Chan-wook, is better classified as a thriller as opposed to horror, but it’s such a fantastic movie that I needed to include it in this list. The movie is loosely based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, but with the setting changed from Victorian London to Korea under Japanese occupation in the 1930s. The movie explores class, gender politics, and sexuality, and takes the time to tell a tender gay love story between its two female protagonists.

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A Conversation with Ronnie Rowe Jr. on Black Cop

Every September, Torontonians eagerly wait for the arrival of TIFF and its noteworthy films and spectacular talent. This year, TIFF mounted over 336 films through a range of genres and early releases. It’s my favourite time of year. Not only are stars brought in from all over the world, the festival is special in that it is a great place for new and emerging talent to shine in. Some are right from our own backyard. Ronnie Rowe Jr. is a Toronto native who is hot on our radar. He stars in his first feature film Black Cop, which premiered at TIFF, a spectacular feat for someone new to film.

I caught Ronnie Rowe Jr. on his way to a fitting for a TV show in Toronto that he can’t quite talk about yet, but something tells me that Black Cop won’t be the last we see of this talented individual.

Photo Credit: TIFF

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first get involved in acting?

Ronnie Rowe Jr.: I was actually forced into acting funny enough, because of a grade six teacher. He was really into musical theatre so he forced all the grade sixes to audition for these plays. One of them was Oliver Twist, another one was Greece, and another one was the Sound of Music. Through this opportunity, that’s when I fell in love with acting. I got to play Danny Zuko, so I might have been the first black Danny Zucko. I got to play Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, I was the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

I thought it was amazing that I could remember the lines. It never felt like I was memorizing.

K: Did it feel like second nature to you?

RRJ: Yeah, I thought it was so much fun and the most fun I’ve had. I got to be free and do it in front of people and they enjoyed it.

The lights really helped. I got nervous at one point, and thought, “oh, I can’t even see anybody.”

Photo Credit: HO-Cylla von Tiedemann

K: What has it been like building your career in the Toronto film and theatre scene?

RRJ: I just came off a theatre tour with Soulpepper, we remounted Kim’s Convenience. We got to go Off Broadway because of it.

I started doing independent theatre about five or six years ago with Unit 102. Through that, more people in the theatre scene started to see me. I got invited to audition for Tarragon, which I booked, but funding fell through.

I did a play with Obsidian Theatre and over at Theatre Passe Muraille and from that, I got to tour Canada with Kim’s Convenience. I got to tour Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, and Off Broadway all this year. It’s been a great year so far.

K: You’ve hit all the major Toronto theatre venues.

RRJ: I love theatre so much. Every time I come off of a theatre run I become this different tool. You get to work the same material for so long and you can’t get bored with it, you have to become fascinated with it, dig deeper, find more things and keep it fresh. It’s a great teacher for me.

K: Do you feel as though it builds a different skill set as opposed to preparing for a film scene?

RRJ: I feel as though it sharpens my actor because of the repetitions. Anytime I’m doing a theatre run I’m always working that material. You discover so many things. The more you say something, the more it comes to life. I love the process of theatre because it’s pretty long.

I think film is like that as well. You get to draw out certain aspects, and you’re trying to find these within the character and the themes. Those processes feel very similar to me.

Photo Credit: @RILEYSMITHPHOTO

K: Does one feel more like home than the other?

RRJ: I feel very comfortable in both theatre and film, and I love them both for different reasons. With theatre, it’s the immediacy, and the intimacy. With film, it’s that it’s so character and story driven. It’s about those moments and that’s where the similarity lies. These moments are so key in theatre and in film.

It’s the same with TV, but I feel as though you get to flush out a bit more with those two mediums.

K: It’s nice to have that immediate connection with your audience through theatre.

RRJ: There’s nothing like it. Whenever there is that first joke in a play, to kind of catch the audience within that state of performance is amazing. Then, you just dance with it for the rest o it. 

K: So you’ve been a natural since the beginning?

RRJ: It just really makes me happy, being up there and expressive and vulnerable… I love it because it’s so scary. 

I found that within the journey of self-discovery and trying to find out who you are, I always needed art to be part of what I do, whether it’s poetry or acting, I need to be artistically expressive.

K: Do you write poetry as well? Did you start as a kid?

RRJ: I do. I’ve been doing it for awhile but it’s just now that I’ve started sharing my pieces more.

K: Do you remember the first time you showed someone a poem?

RRJ: For sure. I’m pretty sure it was a female. 

It’s always nice to get feedback and when people resonate with what you’re saying. Just like with acting or any other form of expression.

K: What is it like to have a film premiering in TIFF?

RRJ: I haven’t seen the film in its entirety yet, so the premier will be the first time I’m actually seeing it. It’s a weird thing, where I’m going to be judging myself…

I’m from Toronto and to have my first feature film premier at home. It’s pretty epic. I have such a great support base and family and friends that are so excited to see the film. I get to experience this first thing with them. It’s pretty awesome.

K: Tell us about Black Cop. How did this collaboration first begin?

RRJ: The movie is a satire/drama. It’s a man’s struggle between his duty and who he is as an individual. Through every day life, he experiences profiling, or being profiled by a police officer and it sets him over the edge to take things into his own hands and set out on a path of revenge.

K: What were your first thoughts on the script?

RRJ: I’ve worked with Cory Bowles (director) before on one of his short films called Free Throw. That was four years ago, and he always told me that we were going to work together again. Last year, I get a call and he says he has a script that he wants me to look at.

I read it and thought that it was dangerous. He asked me to come in and tape and to show the producers what I could do. Then they said they wanted me to do the damn thing.

We filmed it in twelve shooting days on a micro budget. I’m really happy with the things I’ve seen based on what we had to work with. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s a dream come true. Most actors I know want to be a lead, but a lead in a feature film and one that has life, a real story behind it. For it to be premiered at home… I couldn’t have wrote it any better.

K: How does it feel to be a leading man?

RRJ: It feels fantastic. It’s something that I was always capable of being and now I’m thankful for the opportunity to showcase that and for other people to see what I already believed.

K: What can Black Cop tell its audiences, especially considering the current political climate around the world and issues around profiling?

RRJ: I feel as though it’s a very timely film. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to tell you something, but what it does is allow you to observe a different perspective. A perspective that I’m sure that not everybody considers. Based on how things go down, you know that not everybody is considered, or else things would be different if they did.

This film will start conversations and open up conversations that you may have not started before.

Photo Credit: TIFF

K: Black Cop reveals its protagonist as “calculatingly taking control of terror rather than submitting to it.” Is that part of the revenge story you were talking about? What does this mean for your role?

RRJ: Definitely. It means that he begins to profile the profiler. We have heard or seen things through social media, and some of these things may be what you encounter with this gentleman, because he’s heard it. He’s thinking, “let’s see how it feels when you go through it.”

It may promote empathy. It’s easier to sympathize with something, when you see someone like you go through it. The film gives you this opportunity.

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