Prudes, flip the page. Now!

Sex. (Ha! Caught you looking.) Everyone thinks about it. Heck, almost everyone can benefit from an enthusiastic romp in the sack, now and again.


(Ha! Caught you looking.)

Everyone thinks about it.

Heck, almost everyone can benefit from an enthusiastic romp in the sack, now and again.

So, when longtime National Film Board director Paul Cowan decided to make a documentary about the porn industry, he thought “it was a no-brainer.”

But, apparently, spending government cash on a sex film is a tough sell.

“It came up in Parliament,” he said, nursing a coffee a Java Connection last week.

“And this is when the (Canadian) Alliance Party was still around.”

It was rumoured Cowan and his wife attended a porn convention in Las Vegas courtesy of the NFB.

It wasn’t true, said Cowan.

“My wife didn’t go.”

Cowan, who has shot, written and directed numerous documentaries, was in Whitehorse to host one of the Yukon Film Society’s ongoing mentorship workshops last weekend.

Two of his documentaries, Westray and The Peacekeepers were screened Friday.

But the documentary about the porn industry, Give Me Your Soul, is riskier.

“It’s the hardest film I ever had to make,” said Cowan.

“I was trying to figure out what I wanted to say about porn.

“I wanted to be honest, but also not be a prude and not make judgments.”

Cowan started the porn project in the late ‘90s, right around the time porn was becoming chic and more mainstream.

“I’ve always been interested in censorship in Canada, political, cultural, sexual and historical,” he said.

“And now we don’t censor anything anymore with the exception of sexuality.”

Making the film brought Cowan in contact with a host of eccentric characters, including a pornologist from New York City and an 18-year-old woman named Katie June Moon who had just moved to California’s San Fernando Valley to become a hardcore porn star.

When shooting documentaries, Cowan is always open to change — ready to switch directions midstream and follow the most interesting, insightful path.

And this is exactly what happened when he met Moon.

“I decided to focus on this young girl coming to L.A. from Tennessee,” he said.

“And for the next two years I got to follow this crazy, wonderful group of characters.”

Cowan remembers one day when Moon’s mom came for a visit and wanted to watch her daughter in action.

“We were driving out to this big mansion where they were filming, and I was in the car with Katie, her mom and my sound guy.

“And Katie’s going to fuck some guy she hasn’t even seen yet. I’m filming it — and what do you talk about?

“It was weird.”

The hardest part was trying to shoot the documentary in such a way that it didn’t become pornographic itself, said Cowan.

“It was a film about the porn industry that can’t be a porn film. I wanted to be able to show it on TV, but I also didn’t want to be a prude about it.”

Shooting the sex workers was refreshing, he said.

They were open, interesting and thoughtful.

But the producers were scumbags, many with connections to organized crime and drugs.

Cowan always found he was excited to fly down to L.A. for a shoot, but would come home depressed.

“The sex isn’t depressing,” he said.

“It’s the drugs, and everyone trying to screw everyone else.

“It’s not a nice world — it’s a nasty world.”

Documentary filmmaking has entranced Cowan since he was a child, and after an unnecessary engineering degree — the motive for it still a mystery to him — he attended film school at Stanford in California.

“Back then there weren’t any film schools in Canada, and only a handful in the US,” he said.

“But nowadays, almost every university has a film program.”

As a result, there’s lots of competition and it’s a lot harder for young filmmakers who are just starting out, he said.

Cowan entered the industry more than 30 years ago as a cameraman.

His lucky break came when an NFB job was posted for someone who could shoot and downhill ski.

He fit the bill.

“And I love it just as much today as when I started,” he said.

What he doesn’t love is chasing after money.

Funding is harder and harder to come by, even for established filmmakers like Cowan.

“There are more people chasing less dollars,” he said.

But Cowan feels the NFB, which has an annual budget of $70 million, should be funding original films that take some risks.

“The film board has no right to do what the private sector does; it’s incumbent upon it to take risks,” he said.

His advice to fledgling filmmakers is, get out there and make a film.

“You just have to do it,” he said.

“Making films is no easier than when I started, but it’s no less fun either.

“And shooting documentaries throws me into all these situations where my life wouldn’t have taken me.”

After spending a couple years with his subjects, working on a film, it’s hard to leave, he said.

“It’s the hardest thing about documentary filmmaking.

“When you make a documentary, you are, in a sense, seducing people. You’re intensely focused on their lives and it’s extremely flattering. Then it ends and your relationship changes.

“It’s never easy.”

Westray, Cowan’s docudrama on the Nova Scotia mining disaster is available at the Whitehorse library.

His other works, including Peacekeepers, a documentary on UN peacekeeping in the Congo, and Give Me Your Soul are available from the NFB.