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Charles S. Cohen on the Lumière Festival, Buster Keaton, the Cinema Experience

Tim Lanza talks about the Cohen Film Collection’s ‘integral partnership’ with Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna

LYON, France – Attending the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon for the first time this week, Charles S. Cohen, chairman and CEO of Cohen Media Group, praised the event and its International Classic Film Market (MIFC).

A producer and distributor of independent and arthouse films and the biggest distributor of French films in the U.S., Cohen Media Group  also releases restored and re-mastered editions of classic films through its Cohen Film Collection, which includes the Merchant Ivory library and the Buster Keaton catalog.

In town for the Festival premiere of his documentary, “The Great Buster,” directed by Peter Bogdanovich, Cohen described the market as “specialized and highly focused, which is really appealing to me because it allows me to focus on what we take great pride in, acquiring and licensing these wonderful film assets that are really the DNA of Cohen Media.”

The company partnered with the Festival this year on its continuing showcase of Keaton classics.

“This festival allows us the opportunity to show what we really do best,” Cohen said. Lumière has not only provided the opportunity to present “The Great Buster,” but also “to showcase some of the other 4K restorations of Keaton that we’ve done. This is a wonderful place to allow people to enjoy what we’ve been working so hard to do.”

Tim Lanza, Cohen Media’s vice president and archivist, who has been attending the festival for the past several years, said the group also works closely with Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna in what has become “an integral partnership” in restoring its films. “Through them we have the ability to reach out to archives and collectors all around the world in order to assemble the best material available.”

The company is “working from the best material, working with the best labs to undertake the best restorations, frame by frame, marrying that together with new interpretive original musical scores, creating and re-creating an experience for new generations and opening people’s eyes,” Cohen said. “So many people do not know who Buster Keaton is or was. It just blows my mind that people don’t know. Will this really achieve our goal in helping to spread the great work of Buster Keaton? I sure hope so.”

Since taking over the Rohauer Library of more than 700 films in 2011, Cohen has so far restored 63 features and 51 shorts.

The company is also in the process of restoring its Merchant Ivory collection, including 21 features and nine documentaries and shorts. Next up is “The Bostonians,” which will premiere at Cohen’s Quad Cinema in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

“Howards End,” “Heat and Dust,” Maurice” and “Shakespeare Wallah” have already been restored.

As for new acquisitions, the company most recently picked up Sameh Zoabi’s Israeli comedy “Tel Aviv on Fire” and, in Cannes, it nabbed Jia Zhanqke’s Chinese drama “Ash is Purest White” and Eva Husson’s French production “Girls of the Sun.”

In addition to “The Great Buster,” current releases include Claude Lanzmann’s final film, “The Four Sisters.”

Theatrical presentations are important, Cohen added. “I’m a big believer in theatrical profile. Every film that we have, whether it’s a new acquisition, a new production or a new restoration from an older film, always has a theatrical presentation.”

In addition to the Quad, Cohen is in the process of converting a 1930s era playhouse in Larchmont, New York, into a four-screen cinema. Larchmont has one of the largest French-American populations in the U.S., Cohen noted. “So there will be a great opportunity to help spread the great French cinema that we love so much.”

In addition, Cohen also acquired the beloved La Pagode in Paris in 2017 and is working on plans to renovate the historic film palace.

The company this year launched the Cohen Media Channel on Amazon Prime in the U.S., offering more than 100 films, including such diverse titles as James Whale’s 1932 horror classic “The Old Dark House,” starring Boris Karloff; Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s 1977 “Padre Padrone”; Lewis Gilbert’s 1959 thriller “Cast a Dark Shadow,” starring Dirk Bogarde and Kay Walsh; and Val Guest’s 1959 drama “Expresso Bongo,” featuring a young Cliff Richard.

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