"The world is littered with a wealth of submerged stories (and histories) that can be drawn to the surface and magnified. Oncehidden details, captured in a documentary mode, can serve as narrative triggers, and the richness of their un-simulated veracity can be a great resource for the fiction filmmaker. For me, the essence of documentary is an openness to the existing world as it unfolds before the camera. By exploring the cross-fertilization of documentary and narrative, traditional rules are called into question and the standard movie-going experience is destabilized, transformed, and in small but crucial ways, reborn."

Jem Cohen's films have been called “heart-breaking and trance-inducing,” with a “fierce political intelligence.” An admirer of Walter Benjamin and Robert Frank, he draws inspiration from the street, often shooting solo in places from Brooklyn to Budapest. Cohen works in 16 mm, Super 8 and video, building an archive of images over periods of up to ten years. Challenging himself to film what he had previously “framed out,” and organically fashioning hybrids, (experimental documentaries and lyrical portraits—a pre-sanitized Times Square, a musician living with AIDS), more recently he has begun to lace scripted, living, breathing fiction into the mix. A believer in film, art and music, he often works with musicians, especially those who embody independence (Fugazi, Terry Riley, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Patti Smith). Cohen sees film as a “revelation machine,” investigates what he terms “the camera's unsparing ability and cooler eye,” and mines the forces, wonders, damages and poetry of everyday life.


Born 1962, Kabul, Afghanistan
Lives in Brooklyn, New York
1984 B.A. Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut


2004 Chain
2002 Chain X Three (Installation/3-screen film)
2000 Benjamin Smoke (Co-directed with Pete Sillen)
1999 Blood Orange Sky
1999 Amber City
1999 Instrument
1996 Lost Book Found
1994 Buried in Light (Installation and single channel)
1989 Just Hold Still
1987 This is a History of New York

2005 IFP Independent Spirit Award
2003 Greenwall Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts Grant
2001 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
2000 Creative Capital Grant
1999, 01, 03 Yaddo and MacDowell Colony Residencies
1995 Rockefeller Fellowship
1992 Jerome Foundation Grant
1991, 95, 03 New York State Council on the Arts Grant
1990, 98 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship

2005 Museum of Modern Art; Australian Centre for the Moving Image; Berlin International Film Festival; Arte/ZDF; Sundance Channel broadcasts
2004 Edinburgh, Vancouver, Viennale, Cinematexas film festivals
2003 National Film Theatre, London (Retrospective); Walker Art Center
2002 Flaherty Film Seminar; Gijon Film Festival (Retrospective)
2001 Oberhausen Film Festival (Retrospective)
2000 Whitney Biennial; Wexner Center; Melbourne, Edinburgh film festivals
1999 Locarno, Rotterdam film festivals
1998 Museum of Modern Art, New York
1996 Institute for Contemporary Art, London; Lincoln Center; PBS broadcast
1994 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia