Independent film has many patrons, yet few are as devoted as real estate magnate Charles S. Cohen.
The longtime arts org benefactor (whose love of film goes back to high school, when he first made shorts) formed the self-funded Cohen Media Group in 2008 to produce the Oscar-nommed “Frozen River.” This week, he celebrates the first anniversary of its launch as a distributor.
“There’s a dearth of distribution of really well-made dramas, and we thought this would be a great niche for us to jump into to define ourselves,” says Cohen, who teamed with vets Steve Scheffer and Edmondo Schwartz to form the theatrical releasing shingle. They’re in the process of hiring a new exec to spearhead video and digital releases, which are set to bow around the turn of the year with the company’s recent doc “Chasing Madoff,” making the Cohen Group a full-service North American distributor.
With eight movies in its pipeline — four of them from deals at this year’s Cannes, including the Cohen-produced “Just Like a Woman” — CMG is emerging as a surprisingly strong player in the indie world, far more serious in its efforts than the vanity outfit skeptics may have initially suspected.
In the heat of bidding wars at last month’s Toronto Film Festival, CMG nabbed Luc Besson’s awards hopeful “The Lady”; the Rebecca Hall/Dominic West-toplined ghost tale “The Awakening”; began work on a third acquisition; and announced it purchased a cineaste’s dream — the classics-filled, 700-title Raymond Rohauer Film Collection, which includes prints of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance,” Joseph von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel” and all of Buster Keaton’s films. It plans to restore two Rohauer titles in time for next year’s Cannes.
“I want to pursue (film distribution) with equal vigor to everything else I do,” says Cohen, who hired First Independent Pictures founder Gary Rubin as his senior VP. Cohen spends about a third of his time at CMG while serving as owner, president and CEO of Cohen Brothers Realty Corp., which owns 12 million-plus square feet of office space. (Full disclosure: Cohen used to be the landlord of Variety’s New York office.)
CMG got off to a fine start by nabbing the French-language drama “Outside the Law” and comedy “My Afternoons With Margueritte” from Studiocanal. “Law” went on to score one of this year’s best foreign-language Oscar noms, while “Margueritte” has earned a solid $218,000 in just over two weeks of limited release.
Up next for CMG is the Emily Watson-toplined orphan drama “Oranges and Sunshine.” And Cohen plans to give “The Lady,” an Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles later this year for stars Michelle Yeoh and David Thelwis.
While the shingle will focus on acquisitions, it also plans a few productions. One of these, still in development, is the World War II lit adaptation “Operation Mincemeat,” balancing Cohen’s passion for prestige pics with his bottom-line priorities. “After the experience (with Sony Classics releasing ‘Frozen River’), I realized that it’s great to be involved in putting a movie together, (but) how many movies can I (make) at one point in time without giving up my day job? I wasn’t prepared to do that,” Cohen says. “Right now the biggest production I’m facing is the 400,000-square-foot Red Building (at the Pacific Design Center) in West Hollywood.”