France Honors Charles S. Cohen
On Thursday, March 12, 2015, Thomas Michelon, Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, honored Charles S. Cohen with the insignia of Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of his exceptional service to France in the field of cinema. The ceremony was held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York City.
As Owner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Cohen Media Group (CMG) and Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation (CBRC), Charles S. Cohen, an attorney by training, has achieved an enviable national reputation for his exceptional business acumen, innovation and creativity at every turn. An entrepreneurial film producer/distributor and real estate executive in the truest sense, Cohen has developed a highly respected and successful media company with a strong focus on distributing French films throughout North America. CMG is currently the most prolific distributor of French Cinema in the United States.
Tonight it is my great pleasure to honor Charles Cohen, a Francophile with a businessman’s spirit and a cinema lover’s eye. Just a few days ago Benoît Jacquot’s film “Trois Cœurs” – one that Charles distributes – opened the 20th “Rendez Vous with French Cinema” Festival in New York. So, the timing of this ceremony could not have been more perfect!
Our setting tonight, too, is appropriate. We find ourselves in the first ever New York Galerie Cinema, surrounded by photos that pay tribute to 7th art.
Charles’s unparalleled service to France was recently recognized with the Ordre national du Mérite award, a distinction bestowed on leaders who make exceptional contributions to the private or public sectors. And tonight, France honors Charles with the Arts and Letters title for his equally impressive commitment to French culture. I am happy to see Charles’ wife, Clo; his mother, Gloria; his four children, Blake, Ross, Rex, and Brooke; and his son-in-law, Jason, who have come to show their admiration and support.
Charles, as Jean-Luc Godard once said, “a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” As I understand it, for Godard, the best and most passionate portions of our life stories are the real beginnings, regardless of where they fall chronologically. This quote instantly brought your incredible, multi-faceted story to mind. You have delved into fields as diverse as law, real estate, and cinema, infusing all of the subjects you touch with contagious, unstoppable passion.
In an aptly named New York Times article called “Real Estate Developers in Movieland,” it was said that your first love was film. You watched “Cinderella” with your grandmother at age 3 and recall being utterly transported.
Your wife Clo told us that your maternal grandparents sparked this love for film and introduced a cosmopolitan flavor into your childhood. They sowed the seeds that grew into a deep appreciation for France and French film. Clo explained: “They fed your desire for these beautiful cultures and gave you a passion that has been with you ever since.”
As a teen, you would trek across Westchester to watch double features with friends at a movie theater in White Plains. As you say, emancipation and indulging in film go hand in hand.
Despite overwhelming success in real estate, Charles, your love for film came back again and again.
And now, as we reach the most recent part of Charles’ chronological story, we approach the beginning – by Godard’s New Wave measure. In 2007, Charles created the Cohen Media Group, and covered the United States, from California to New York, with the fiery passion for cinema that he could not ignore. He first took the plunge by investing in the somber Courtney Hunt film, “Frozen River,” whose attractive production costs were too attractive to turn down. Charles was Executive Producer on the film, which went on to win the 2008 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and two Spirit Awards as well as two Oscar nominations.
Today, as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Cohen Media Group, Charles demonstrates deep engagement and drive to expose cinema to new audiences. With sharp business sense and unparalleled acumen, he transforms cinema into a cause – or an unstoppable campaign.
Jean Bréhat tells us that during production of the film “Two Men in Town” – shot at the border of Mexico and the United States – Charles was so determined to witness the production that he flew into El Paso just for the day, then took a car across the sandy desert tundra for 120 miles and arrived on set. Charles emerged from his swanky ride in a chic suit and tie. The wind was swirling around him and he looked like a mirage in the barren landscape. The fact that Charles made such a trip – just to see Forrest Whitaker for a few hours – exemplifies his disarming dedication.
Charles, without a doubt you are one of the most influential and active distributors of French Films in the USA. It’s amazing to think how many French films and filmmakers there are that are only known here thanks to your endless commitment. Let me give you a few examples: “Delicacy,” starring Audrey Tautou, “Farewell My Queen” with Diane Kruger, “The Last of the Unjust,” by Claude Lanzmann, Francois Ozon’s “Dans la maison,” “Elle s’en va,” starring Catherine Deneuve or André Téchiné’s “L’homme que l’on aimait trop.” These are just some of the masterpieces he shares with new American audiences.
And his choices garner the highest praise. “Hors la loi,”directed by Rachid Bouchareb, was nominated for an Academy Award. The incredible Franco-African film “Timbuktu” won seven César awards and was also nominated for an Oscar: we know well how Charles fought for this film. “Timbuktu” is a huge success and is a symbol of Charles’ support for both French and Francophone cinema alike.
You also demonstrate uncommon loyalty to directors, choosing to focus on artistic talent, and you offer great fidelity to the artists you admire rather than just support them in the short term. You have followed the extraordinary Benoît Jacquot, for example, in all of his cinematic endeavors.
Your engagement reaches even further than artists – it touches entire communities. Here in New York, Charles has taken on the ambitious project of renovating and improving the Quad Cinema in Union Square, and he regularly donates prime real estate to artists for exhibitions through the Design LAB project.
Charles’ passion is no less than palpable—he is a true cinema fanatic. As his son Ross said, Charles is such a font of cinema knowledge that spending time with him can make even the most artistic people “feel like philistines.”
And your daughter, Brooke, agrees and affectionately calls you “the ultimate cinema buff.” She also mentioned that when she was a kid and had learned to read on her own, your immediate reaction was, "This is great! Now we can watch subtitled movies!"
Charles, all this is already extraordinary. But we should mention another mission that is very important to your eyes: collecting and transmitting the best of cinema to future generations. The Cohen Media Group recently acquired the renowned Rohauer Library that boasts over 500 feature films, plus 200 shorts, and the original work of Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, and others. This acquisition reveals Charles’s deep interest in revitalizing precious works from our past and blasting them through modern screens. By outfitting these treasures for contemporary times, Charles preserves of our cultural heritage.
And as Producer Jean Bréhat and Director Rachid Bouchareb told us, Charles, our erudite cinephile, has a full-fledged theater in his Sunset Boulevard home, stocked with an enormous, extensive film database. Figuring in this massive collection are many French films from the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. In the words of Bréhat, Charles truly “knows French cinema by heart.”
Charles hones his spirit of adventure and entrepreneurial skill to restore and preserve our artistic history. In addition to spearheading a special partnership with Pathé to restore the staples of our cinema, he has preserved over thirty other classic French cinema titles. We can honestly say that Cohen Media Group has one of the single most impressive collections of films.
All this gives me tremendous pleasure today as I honor you, Charles.
I will close with a last quote from Clo, who knows your passions and ambition best.
She says, “Charles is so particularly excited by French cinema and these wonderful, intricate stories of humanity that he is finding and bringing to a mature audience in America. Charles loves these thought provoking, beautifully made stories that he believes fill the gap in today's theater-going experience.”
Your commitment to sharing our French culture is truly special. For your exceptional engagement in safeguarding the history of cinema through preservation and restoration, for your extraordinary business sense that drives you to activate an entire network of French cinema in the US, and for your superior passion in the arena of the arts, you fully deserve the insignia of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters. With this distinction, you join the ranks of so many other cinema visionaries who have also been honored with the arts and letters award like Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Jonas Mekas and Morgan Freeman, to name just a few.
Cher Charles Cohen, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des arts et des lettres.
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