Since its launch in 2008, Cohen Media Group has become a much-admired producer and distributor of independent and arthouse films.
It’s the largest distributor of French films in the U.S. Its offerings have also racked up kudos, including a 2016 Oscar win for “The Salesman,” and 2017 Acad nominations for “Faces Places” and “The Insult.”
In addition, its specialty home entertainment label, the Cohen Film Collection, releases restored and re-mastered editions of classics on digital platforms, Blu-ray and DVD.
“We distribute about 10 new films a year,” says executive VP Gary Rubin, who heads up the L.A. office and notes that distribution is just one arm of a four-part business model. “We also have the library, which we’re constantly adding to; the production group, which is run by [senior VP of production] Erica Steinberg and which is producing bigger films; and then the theaters. We have several in the U.S., and Charles [Cohen, chairman-CEO] just bought La Pagode in Paris.”
The latter marks Cohen’s first international theater acquisition. “Charles is a great Francophile and fan of foreign films, and out of the 10 films we put out yearly, I’d say seven or eight are foreign,” Rubin says. “We cater to an older demographic — 40-plus — and audiences that want more adult, more intelligent fare. We’re not in the market for 20-year-olds.”
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Rubin notes that older demographic is “under-served,” citing the success of “My Old Lady,” dramedy starring Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline that screened at TIFF in 2014. “It became our biggest hit so far, doing over $4 million, which is pretty good for this market.”
New York-based exec VP John Kochman, a veteran of the international market, says that the group’s theater acquisitions, which include the Quad in New York, the Silver Screen at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, the Larchmont Playhouse in Westchester County, N.Y., the Carefree Theatre in West Palm Beach, Fla., and La Pagode, represent “an expansion into exhibition — but a cautious, discriminating one. They’re opportunities that arise, and then Charles jumps on them. It’s a response to the diminishing number of screens now available for our sort of films.”
CMG has always been committed to restoration and archiving, which is overseen by Cohen Film Collection senior VP and archivist Tim Lanza. “Prior to Charles acquiring the library in 2011, there was no restoration at all, just preservation through the Library of Congress,” he says.
The company has restored some 100 films, including Buster Keaton’s “The General,” Hitchcock’s “Jamaica Inn,” and the 1924 silent version of “Thief of Bagdad” starring Douglas Fairbanks.
“Charles wanted a classics division, and from the start was dedicated to not only distribute them, but distribute them in the best condition possible. That means doing full-blown restorations for most of them,” Lanza says.
This approach can be “quite challenging,” he admits. “It includes cleanup, stabilization, damage repair and digitization.” Typically, one such project can take many months, or even a year or so, to complete.
“We cater to an older demographic and audiences that want more intelligent fare.”
Even more challenging are films from the silent era. “Seventy-five percent are completely gone and decomposed now, so even finding and then restoring material is a struggle,” he says. “Luckily we work closely with a number of very good labs in the U.S. and Europe.”
CMG also collaborates closely with the original director and DP whenever possible, as is the case with James Ivory and the 30 Merchant Ivory titles acquired by the company.
Part of that 2015 deal “was to restore and re-release them,” says Ivory, who is “thrilled that our body of work is getting a second life through these restorations. It takes a very long time and a lot of skill and patience to restore each one, and they’ve done a wonderful job. It’s like seeing them for the first time again.”
CMG may be committed to saving cinema’s past, but it’s also embracing the future with its new SVOD streaming service, Cohen Media Channel, on Amazon Channels.
“The viewing market is changing and this will allow fans to easily access some of our catalog of award-winning films as well as all the classics in our Cohen Film Collection, so it’s pretty exciting,” Rubin says.
“Going forward, our business plan is basically more of the same, although we have to be careful of the films we buy. We’ll probably focus a bit more on English-language films than we have in the past, and ramp up our production division. That’s very important to Charles.”
Adds Kochman: “Our big goal is to keep all these films alive and available, but we know it’s a niche market, and it’s getting harder and harder. Our big challenge is that there’s less and less room for error.”