Talent With A Soul
ARTHUR COHN on PRODUCTION
by Andréa Rodrigues
Forty years later, after the production of the Oscar-winning feature THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINI (1971), producer and author Arthur Cohn, who achieved international recognition with his debut in the Oscar winning documentary THE SKY ABOVE, THE MUD BELOW (1961) and through the many collaborations with Italian director Vittorio de Cicca in a variety of films, such as in WOMEN TIMES SEVEN (1967), A PLACE FOR LOVERS (1968) and A BRIEF VACATION (1973), is the only non-American producer to have his own star on Hollywood's "Walk of Fame”. Arthur Cohn combines talent with a soul. He keeps his integrity by remaining true to roots, while relying on imaginary wings for creative expressions.
“Aesthetically beautiful.” That is the first impression one gets when prompted with a preview of any of Arthur Cohn’s films. His guiding principles are simple: “follow your own intuition, don’t listen to objections by others, be true to yourself.” It all sounds too cliché, a word which, ironically, never had a real place in Arthur Cohn’s films. His works are unique. His stories have depth. The viewers’ identification with the characters is almost immediate; as is our incessant will to watch the story unfold. Cohn is one of the few producers who have the exceptional ability to take as many original subject themes on board and still deliver an outstanding story: being the relatively unknown world of International Chess Championship in DANGEROUS MOVES (1984), the provocative anti-war satirical narrative of BLACK AND WHITE IN COLOR (1976) or the heartbreaking documentary about a meat packing industry dispute in Minnesota in AMERICAN DREAM (1990), Cohn never fails to create a convincing work. He is the type of producer who has the rare talent of turning any given topic into a captivating piece of Film history, while at the same time keeping his audience interested in the subjects he portrays. And the many talents of the Swiss-born producer have, gladly, not been taken for granted. Until this day, Arthur Cohn has been awarded Six Oscars by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences for his extraordinary achievements, which many attributed to the originality and uniqueness of his own work process: unlike other Hollywood producers, who face fierce competition in acquiring support for their productions and who must deliver their projects on time, Cohn works with out of the norm, not-usually-seen-in-Hollywood type of stories, and being an independent producer himself, can take several years to develop a script and still have no commercial pressure over it, offering little to no threat to Hollywood’s pictures. Each of Cohn’s productions is a piece of art. The characters have a humane aspect to them that is easily transcended to the screen. The scripts are carefully and meticulously studied, and the stories are crafted to perfection in order to make each line as real as possible – always with the help of high-quality imagery and a convincing and clever storyline. The films produced by Cohn have the common characteristic of depicting universal conflicts, conflicts in which the main characters strive to seek their solutions in a brotherly way. Also evident in many of his works, are Cohn’s attachment to Israel and his close ties to his own Jewish identity, topics that are often revisited by the producer. Both CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (1999) and THE FINAL SOLUTION (1983) deal with the Holocaust as their central subject matter, while the widely known ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER (1999), examines the dramatic events that took place during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. This strong commitment to his own ancestry and roots occupy a special position in Cohn’s creative expression and are easily noted in all he does: being a visual production, written piece of work, to an interview and public speeches.
So what makes Arthur Cohn’s films so powerful? – One may wonder. The producer is keen to attribute his given success back to his family and origins. "My success is really due to my parents, they gave me roots and wings.” He says during an interview. And continues: “They taught me their beliefs, their family traditions and their religion. They also gave me wings so that I should be able to fly out on my own - so that I could succeed based on my own achievements and not because I was the son of well-respected people. At the same time, they taught me not to forget my roots." And it was, in fact, this precise balance of both Roots and Wings, which led to Cohn’s eminence in the Film industry. The awards the producer has won so far are as diverse as his film subject matters: From Oscars and Humanitarian Awards, to French Ministry of Culture “Commandeur des Arts Et des Lettres” medal and Guardian of Zion Awards. His vast array of productions, ranging from short films, documentaries and features, and his extensive collaborations with renowned directors Walter Salles, Kevin MacDonald and Vittorio de Cicca, have turned Arthur Cohn into an internationally acclaimed and well- respected figure over the years. His movies are eternal: from the dramatic story of THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF (2010) and the revenge- driven BEHIND THE SUN (2001), to the horrors of the Second World War present in SUNFLOWER (1970) and the socio-economic problems portrayed in CENTRAL DO BRASIL (1998) and LES CHORISTES (2004), which children take the lead role. Not only Arthur Cohn adds talent to his natural born geniality, he adds a soul. A soul that might go unnoticed by some, but if one looks closely, it’s there, and it always will be. Arthur Cohn’s might not live forever, but his works, undoubtedly will.
Laudatio for Arthur Cohn by the University of Basel.
L.A. Times article by Kevin Thomas.
New York Film Academy Q&A with Arthur Cohn.