SPIRIT OF STANLY 2024: Cotton hones film, theatrical craft

James Cotton is a Stanly County native who has been active in the arts community for almost 30 years. He has been in many Uwharrie Players productions starting in 1997 with “Guys and Dolls,” then “Grease” in 1998, “Cotton Patch Gospel” in 2002, “The Boys Next Door” in 2007, “Dearly Departed” in 2011, “Twelve Angry Men” in 2012, “The Curious Savage” in 2016 and “The Odd Couple” in 2022. He directed the 2003 productions of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Rainmaker” as well as the 2010 production of “Smoke on the Mountain.” More recently he directed the 2021 production of “I’m Dying to Be in the Choir” and the 2023 production of “Down to Earth.”

James has served on the UP board of directors multiple times, including during 2020 helping to keep the organization going during the lockdown by directing “The Virtual Family,” a video play released online. He was instrumental in many UP radio shows as technical director and appeared in a few. Starting in 2018, James began designing and building sets for the UP, building “Drinking Habits” and “Cinderella” in 2018, “Let Him Sleep Til It’s Time for His Funeral” in 2019, “I’m Dying to Be in the Choir” and “Blithe Spirit” in 2021, “The Odd Couple” and “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 2022 and “Down to Earth” and “Bright Star” in 2023. James has won several Uwharrie Players awards including Favorite Character Actor for “Grease,” the Joan Giglio Award in 2021, Favorite Show for “I’m Dying to Be in the Choir” in 2021 and Best Actor and Favorite Comic Performance for “The Odd Couple” in 2022.

James is also an award winning filmmaker. In 2005 James moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to attend Vancouver Film School. Since returning from film school, James has produced several short films. He wrote, co-produced, was director of photography and director for the short film “Violet” that was at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival in France. In 2013, he co-produced, wrote and directed the short film “One Man’s Poison,” a 1930s crime noir film shot entirely in Albemarle. This film went on to win the President’s Choice award at the 2015 North Carolina Film Awards. Next, James adapted and directed a short film version of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” shot at the Marks House in Albemarle. This film screened at the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival in New York City and won several awards including the President’s Choice award in the 2015 North Carolina Film Awards and The Award of Merit at the 2016 Accolade Global Film Competition. The film also won the Award of Merit for Lead Actress and Award of Recognition for Supporting Actress. Since 2016, James has participated in the 48 Hour Film Project in Charlotte five times both producing and directing.

One of James’ happiest achievements in the arts in Stanly County is the founding of the Stanly County Concert Band for which he was president for the first several years of the organization’s existence. The SCCB just celebrated its 10th anniversary. He has played tenor sax and bass clarinet in the concert band for almost the entire 10 years.

James is working on several film projects he hopes to see happen in the near future.

This article previously appeared in the Spirit of Stanly magazine.