Jem Alan Cohen
is an award-winning New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...
-based filmmaker known for his observational portraits of urban landscapes, blending of media formats (16mm
16 mm film refers to a popular, economical gauge of film used for motion pictures and non-theatrical film making. 16 mm refers to the width of the film...
, Super 8
Super 8 mm film is a motion picture film format released in 1965 by Eastman Kodak as an improvement of the older "Double" or "Regular" 8 mm home movie format....
A videotape is a recording of images and sounds on to magnetic tape as opposed to film stock or random access digital media. Videotapes are also used for storing scientific or medical data, such as the data produced by an electrocardiogram...
) and collaborations with music artists. He is the recipient of the Independent Spirit Award and many first place awards for feature filmmaking. "Cohen's films have been broadcast in Europe by the BBC and ZDF/ARTE, and in the U.S. by the Sundance Channel and PBS. They are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, and Melbourne's Screen Gallery." He has received grants from the Guggenheim, Creative Capital, Rockefeller and Alpert Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other organizations.
Cohen was born in Kabul
Kabul , spelt Caubul in some classic literatures, is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan. It is also the capital of the Kabul Province, located in the eastern section of Afghanistan...
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...
where his father was working for the U.S. Agency for Information and Development. He graduated from Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college founded in 1831 and located in Middletown, Connecticut. According to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Wesleyan is the only Baccalaureate College in the nation that emphasizes undergraduate instruction in the arts and...
in 1984, with a concentration on painting and photography. Jem never attended a film school.
Cohen found the maintream Hollywood film industry incompatible with his sociopolitical and artistic views. By applying the DIY ethos of Punk Rock into his filmmaking approach, he crafted a distinct style in his films through various cheap formats of Super 8mm, 16mm, and video. In an interview with The Lamp, Cohen said, "...it's very inspiring to me, to see people kind of take something outside of the industry, outside of the music industry, and it gave me something of a template to work in film outside of the film industry. And there are certainly strains of punk that are activist and that are kind of oppositional in nature to the dominant mainstream culture... that's very inspiring to me..."
Cohen's longer works include his feature film, CHAIN
Chain is a "narrative/documentary" film written and directed by Jem Cohen. The movie is about two women, a corporate executive and a young drifter whose lives are changed by the loss of regional identity due to the similarity of retail culture worldwide...
, and the experimental documentary
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...
Instrument is a documentary film directed by Jem Cohen about the band Fugazi. Cohen's relationship with band member Ian MacKaye extends back to the 1970s when the two met in high school in Washington, D.C....
, a portrait of the D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....
Punk rock is a rock music genre that developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in garage rock and other forms of what is now known as protopunk music, punk rock bands eschewed perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock...
Fugazi is an American post-hardcore band that formed in Washington, D.C. in 1987. The band's continual members are guitarists and vocalists Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty....
that was ten years in the making. Another film that covers a ten year arc, Benjamin Smoke
Benjamin Smoke was a musician who fronted the Atlanta, Georgia band Smoke. He was noted for being a radical, gay rock 'n' roll performer. He died on January 29, 1999 due to liver failure caused by Hepatitis C at age 39. He performed his final concert in Atlanta, Georgia on New Year's Eve, 1998...
, is about the life of the frontman of the Atlanta, Georgia
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...
Smoke was a band from the Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia that dissolved in 1999 with the death of writer/singer Benjamin. Benjamin is the subject of Peter Sillen and Jem Cohen's documentary Benjamin Smoke .- History :...
. Other works of note are Lost Book Found
, his Walter Benjamin
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish intellectual, who functioned variously as a literary critic, philosopher, sociologist, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist...
-inspired portrait of New York City, Buried in Light
, a series of connected Central and Eastern European city portraits, and his short film about the late Elliott Smith
Steven Paul "Elliott" Smith was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Smith was born in Omaha, Nebraska, raised primarily in Texas, and resided for a significant portion of his life in Portland, Oregon, where he first gained popularity...
, Lucky Three
. In 2002, Cohen made Chain X Three
, a precursor to the CHAIN
feature film, which was exhibited as a three-channel installation. His concert film of the Dutch band The Ex, Building a Broken Mousetrap
, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006.
In 2005, Cohen curated the four-day FUSEBOX Festival in Ghent
Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of...
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...
. A celebratory gathering "at the crossroads of film, music, and activism," participants included Guy Picciotto
Guy Picciotto is an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, musician, and producer from Washington, DC.He is most widely known for his role as the guitarist and vocalist of Fugazi, as well as Rites of Spring.-Rites of Spring & Early Projects:...
of Fugazi, Patti Smith
Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist, who became a highly influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses....
and Tom Verlaine
Tom Verlaine is a singer, songwriter and guitarist, best known as the frontman for the New York rock band Television.-Biography:...
, The Evens
The Evens are a Washington, D.C. indie-rock duo, formed in the fall of 2001, comprising partners Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina...
, and a side project of Montreal's Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, called Thee Silver Mountain Elegies Play War Radio, which formed for the occasion.
Other music artists Cohen has collaborated with over the years include Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Vic Chesnutt
James Victor "Vic" Chesnutt was an American singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia. His first album, Little, was released in 1990, but his breakthrough to commercial success didn't come until 1996 with the release of Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, a tribute album of mainstream artists...
, Terry Riley
Terrence Mitchell Riley, is an American composer intrinsically associated with the minimalist school of Western classical music and was a pioneer of the movement...
Sparklehorse was an American indie rock band led by the singer and multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous.-History:Sparklehorse's first album, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot featuring Bob Rupe of the Silos and Cracker, was a modest college radio success...
R.E.M. was an American rock band formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry. One of the first popular alternative rock bands, R.E.M. gained early attention due to Buck's ringing, arpeggiated guitar style and Stipe's...
, T.Griffin, Stephen Vitiello
Stephen Vitiello is a visual and sound artist. Originally a punk guitarist he is influenced by video artist Nam June Paik who he worked with after meeting in 1991...
, Miracle Legion
Miracle Legion was an American college rock band formed in 1983 in New Haven, Connecticut. They earned modest renown, especially in their native New England region. The original lineup consisted of singer/guitarist Mark Mulcahy, lead guitarist Mr. Ray Neal, drummer Jeff Wiederschall, and bassist...
, DJ /rupture
DJ /rupture is the pseudonym of Jace Clayton, a New York-based American DJ and producer. He used to play in the drum and bass collective Toneburst, and DJ'ed in Boston during the late 1990s...
and Blonde Redhead
Blonde Redhead is an American alternative rock band composed of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Kazu Makino and twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace , which formed in New York City in 1993....
He has also cited that he has previously worked for the film industry as a technician and prop man, some of the directors he has worked under include Alex Cox
Alexander Cox is a British film director, screenwriter, nonfiction author and sometime actor, notable for his idiosyncratic style and approach to scripts...
, John Sayles
John Thomas Sayles is an American independent film director, screenwriter and author.-Early life:Sayles was born in Schenectady, New York, the son of Mary , a teacher, and Donald John Sayles, a school administrator. He was raised Catholic and took to labeling himself "a Catholic atheist"...
, and Martin Scorsese
Martin Charles Scorsese is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film historian. In 1990 he founded The Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation, and in 2007 he founded the World Cinema Foundation...
In addition to his filmmaking, Cohen has taught a workshop titled 'Documentary as a Lyrical Force" at the International Center of Photography
The International Center of Photography is a photography museum, school, and research center in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States...
. The works of Humphrey Jennings
Frank Humphrey Sinkler Jennings was an English documentary filmmaker and one of the founders of the Mass Observation organization...
, Helen Levitt
Helen Levitt was an American photographer. She was particularly noted for "street photography" around New York City, and has been called "the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time."- Biography :...
, Georges Franju
-External links:* at Allmovie...
, Santiago Álvarez
Santiago Álvarez Román was a Cuban filmmaker. He wrote and directed many documentaries about Cuban and American culture...
, and Forugh Farrokhzad, as well as his own, are discussed.
- A Road in Florida (1983)
- Witness (1986)
- This is a History of New York (The Golden Age of Reason) (1987)
- Selected City Films (1989)
- Talk About the Passion (1989) collaboration with R.E.M.
- You're the One Lee (1989) collaboration with Miracle Legion
- Glue Man (1989) collaboration with Fugazi
- Light Years (1989)
- Love Teller (1989)collaboration with Ben Katchor
- Never Change (1988) text by Blake Nelson
- 4:44 (from her house) (1989)
- What does Away Mean? PSA (1989)
- Marks Town (1991)
- Drink Deep (1991)
- Black Hole Radio (1992) single channel version and video installation
- Nightswimming (1993)
- Drift (1993)
- Buried in Light (1993)
- Sun Project (1994)
- Coney Island End of God the Way It Must Be (1996)
- Lost Book Found (1996)
- Lucky Three (1997)
- Amber City (1999)
- Instrument (1999)
- Blood Orange Sky (1999)
- Waterfront Diaries (New York) (2000)
- Nice Evening, Transmission Down (2001)
- Little Flags (2000)
- Benjamin Smoke (2000)
- George Thief (2002)
- The Foxx and Little Vic (2002)
- Cat Power: Live from Fur City (2002)
- Chain X Three (2002)
- Chain (2004)
- NYC Weights and Measures (2005)
- Blessed Are the Dreams of Men (2006)
- Building a Broken Mouse Trap (2006)
- Free (2007)
- Smells Like Teen Spirit (2007)
- Empires of Tin (2007)