Often shooting in hundreds of locations with little or no additional crew, Jem Cohen collects street footage, portraits, and sounds. The projects built from these archives defy easy categorization, thriving on the collision between documentary, narrative, and experimental approaches. Some of the projects are personal/political city portraits made on travels around the globe. Many center around daily life and ephemeral moments: things seen out of the corner of the eye and pulled into the center.
Cohen has made two feature-length documentaries: Instrument (with and about Fugazi) and Benjamin Smoke (co-directed by Peter Sillen). He has worked with musicians including Sparklehorse, Blonde Redhead, R.E.M., Elliott Smith, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Miracle Legion, Jonathan Richman, Patti Smith, Vic Chesnutt, Stephen Vitiello, and Gil Shaham with the Orpheus Orchestra.
Cohen's work has been broadcast by PBS, the BBC, Planete, and the Sundance Channel. Awards include first prizes at Locarno International Film Festival, Bonn Videonale, Festival Dei Popoli, Doubletake Documentary Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, Film + Arc, Graz, and the Barbara Aronofsky Latham Award 2000. Cohen is a Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellow.