Jem Cohen has made over 40 films built from his own ongoing archive of street footage, portraits, and sound. Many of these explore the collision between documentary, narrative, and the experimental. Some are city films, others collaborations with musicians; most connect the personal with the political, all are hard to categorize.
In 2008, Cohen worked with Patti Smith on a series of short films and installations for her show at Fondation Cartier in Paris. In 2006, three films, Building A Broken Mousetrap (The Ex in New York), Blessed Are The Dreams Of Men, and Nyc Weights And Measures, premiered at the Toronto Intl. Film Fest. Jem’s feature, Chain, premiered at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival and in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. Chain received a 2005 Independent Spirit Award, and was broadcast on ARTE in Europe and the Sundance Channel in the U.S. Cohen’s Fugazi documentary, Instrument, which premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival, covered a ten-year arc, as did Benjamin Smoke, (co-directed with Peter Sillen). Earlier works include Lost Book Found, Buried In Light, Amber City, and Blood Orange Sky.
In 2005, Jem curated the Fusebox Festival; four days “at the crossroads of film, music, and activism,” with the Evens, the Ex, Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine, Thee Silver Mountain Elegies Play War Radio (members of Silver Mt. Zion and HangedUp), Guy Picciotto, T.Griffin Coraline, and Jerusalem in My Heart. Cohen’s other work with musicians includes film/music collaborations with Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Vic Chesnutt, Terry Riley, Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse, R.E.M., Jonathan Richman, Blonde Redhead, Stephen Vitiello, gand the Orpheus Orchestra with Gil Shaham.
Cohen has had retrospectives at the National Film Theatre in London, BAFICI (Buenos Aires Intl. Independent Film Festival), Gijon Film Festival (Spain), and Cinematexas. His works have been broadcast by the BBC, PBS, ZDF/ARTE, and the Sundance Channel, and are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, and Melbourne’s Screen Gallery.
Cohen co-produced Vic Chesnutt’s North Star Deserter. He had his first show of still photographs in 2009.