Filmmaker James Cooper’s latest short film, Romario was presented at the 2022 Inside Out Festival. For this local filmmaker, this was the perfect showcase to showcase this project. Even with its short run-time, Romario has an important message for our time. As part of the 2022 Inside Out Festival, I had the chance to speak with James, and talk about his own artistic process, and the experiences that inspired the film.
Romario follows artist Romario Smith’s journey to create religious art with homoerotic imagery. Smith, a deeply religious man, tells his story through his artwork. In many ways, the subject and the filmmaker have gone on parallel journeys in their lives, despite ending up on different spiritual paths.
Cooper spoke about his own experience with Christianity. Specifically, he spoke about his engagement with the church in his high school years in local youth groups. Of the experience, he noted, “I felt welcome, but I never felt I could fully be myself”. Cooper spoke about how his own religious journey has led him to find fulfilment in atheism.
Smith, however, has delved deeper into his Christian faith and his sexuality simultaneously. He has become a leader in the local Queer Christian community, in addition to exploring his art. For Cooper, Smith was a natural focus for his documentary to explore the intersection of sexuality and religion.
In terms of bringing the themes of art, sexuality, and religion together, Cooper was clear: “This isn’t something you should shy away from”. Cooper expanded, “There’s a separation between yourself and your art. But we need to not just look at his (Smith’s) art, but the world inside him”.
Cooper is proud to focus on stories from his surrounding community. “I knew it would be a local story with local voices. “I didn’t think about getting into documentaries,” Cooper told me. “But I was so happy with the final result”.
In terms of next steps for Cooper, the options are essentially limitless. He said how much he’d love to continue making short films, particularly fiction shorts. “The most immediate drive I have is to make more films”.
He’s working on a queer coming of age story, with a father and son. His goal is to make a feature in the next few years, and further explore themes of sexuality and spirituality. He also has a web series in the works. Of the filmmaking process, Cooper told me, “It’s such a wonderful, collaborative effort”. Cooper would also like to expand his repertoire into comedy, drawing on the rich tradition of Canadian classics like Schitt’s Creek, Baroness Von Sketch, and Kim’s Convenience.
James Cooper is a voice we need in our society. His eye for talent, and his compassion for the stories of others is immediately clear. He’s just getting started, and we will surely be hearing his name again and again on the Canadian film scene.
Romario will next be shown at Out! Film Festival, June 14-18.