The Whitechapel Gallery, Barbican and Hackney Picturehouse present a major film and music season for the first comprehensive UK retrospective of Brooklyn-based filmmaker Jem Cohen (b. 1962) from 31 March to 28 May 2015.

From empathetic and impressionistic portraits of cities, people and places, to his enduring relationships and collaborations with musicians such as Patti Smith, REM, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Elliot Smith and Fugazi, Cohen’s prolific body of work – more than 70 films over three decades – is widely considered as one of the most significant in international independent cinema.

Including features, essay and diary films, documentaries, installations and music works, Cohen’s output is rooted in experimental film, the traditions of street photography and urban aesthetics, and the collaborative qualities of the American alternative music scene. His critically acclaimed feature Museum Hours (2012), a detailed study of friendship and an ode to the art and museums of Vienna, bought his work to an international audience.

Jem Cohen: Compass and Magnet presents a series of screenings and events charting Cohen’s career from the late ‘80s to the present day. Highlights include:

– We Have an Anchor at the Barbican Centre: The European premiere of this major, multi-screen, live film and music performance, a love letter to the unique landscapes of Nova Scotia, sees Cohen collaborate with musicians from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Fugazi, Dirty Three and more.

– At the Whitechapel Gallery, an extensive programme of over 45 films charting Cohen’s career and a rare opportunity to see the filmmaker discuss his work. Including his influential feature Chain, his award-winning portraits of cities and a screening of his complete NYC Occupy series. Cohen will introduce Museum Hours and take part in an extended conversation in early April.

– In May, four days of exclusive screenings at the Hackney Picturehouse showcase Cohen’s music projects, from documentaries to innovative short works.

Full Season Event Listings:


Jem Cohen: We Have An Anchor
31 March 2015, 7.30pm, Barbican Hall (£15 – £20 plus booking fee)
We Have An Anchor  sees Jem Cohen collaborating with an ensemble of acclaimed musicians in a cinematic love letter to Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton. Multiple layered film projections are interspersed with texts ranging from poems to local folklore, and buoyed by the group’s alternately ethereal and epic original score written and performed by members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Fugazi, Dirty Three and more. The project was last presented to great acclaim in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Next Wave series and appears here in its European debut. Find out more

Whitechapel Gallery *Season tickets are available for this venue

Jem Cohen: Museum Hours
Thursday 9 April, 7pm (£8.50 / £6.50 conc.)
Jem Cohen’s highly acclaimed 2012 feature is a lyrical and moving tribute to the power of art, a hymn to friendship and a subtle portrait of a city – Vienna – and its margins. The event includes a Q&A with the director.

Jem Cohen: From Gravity Hill 
Saturday 11 April, 1.30pm – 6pm (£10.50 / £8.50 conc.)
A dozen short films capture the energies of 2011’s Occupy Wall Street and are discussed in an extended conversation between Cohen and Whitechapel Gallery Adjunct Film Curator Gareth Evans. The event also features a special preview of Cohen’s latest feature-length piece.

Jem Cohen: The Passage Clock
Thursday 23 April, 7pm (£8.50 / £6.50 conc.)
A rich collection of seven short films, including a tribute to Walter Benjamin with Patti Smith, a portrait of Jean Vigo’s daughter Luce and a sensory exploration of the lives and locales of Catania, Sicily.

Jem Cohen: the City and the Music 
Thursday 7 May, 6.45pm (£8.50 / £6.50 conc.)
Two programmes of shorts explore both the people and sites of New York City in luminous detail alongside Cohen’s love of imaginative music, in collaboration with the bands Xylouris White, Blonde Redhead and more.

Jem Cohen: Amber City & Buried in Light
Saturday 16 May, 2.30pm – 6pm (£10.50 / £8.50 conc.)
Amber City (1999) presents an impressionistic take on an un-named city in Italy, while Buried in Light (1994) offers a cinematic collage on profound change in Central and Eastern Europe. Also included is a second programme of New York short films, introduced by poet and critic Sophie Mayer.

Jem Cohen: Chain
Thursday 28 May, 7pm (£8.50 / £6.50 conc.)
Cohen’s prescient and insightful 2004 feature Chain is an investigation of the new ‘non-places’, a hypnotic, original work about what it’s like to live in the rapidly globalising corporate landscape.

Hackney Picturehouse

Jem Cohen: Benjamin Smoke + related extras
Sunday 17 May, 3pm(£8 / £7 conc. / £6 members)
Co-directed with Peter Sillen, and over a decade in the making, this moving portrait tracks the life of iconic U.S. singer-songwriter Benjamin Smoke, from his childhood to his work with U.S. rock band Smoke in the 1990s and living with HIV. The film combines an intricate collage of interviews, live performances, time-lapse cinematography and still photographs.

Jem Cohen: Instrument
Monday 18 May, 6.40pm(£8 / £7 conc. / £6 members)
An acclaimed 1999 portrait of the influential U.S. band Fugazi, filmed over 11 years and comprising concert footage, off-stage observation and interviews. Made with the full involvement of the band, it creates a compelling weave of music and image.

Jem Cohen: Building a Broken Mousetrap + short films for Patti Smith, Elliott Smith, R.E.M., Sparklehorse and Vic Chesnutt
Sunday 24 May, 8.50pm(£8 / £7 conc. / £6 members)
This 2006 film centres around one performance by Holland-based musicians The Ex, who visited New York to play a concert. Their performance is intercut with city scenes, first from Amsterdam and then New York, of construction sites, street life, and protests against the Iraq war and the Bush administration.

Jem Cohen: Evening’s Civil Twilight in Empires of Twin
Monday 25 May, 9pm(£8 / £7 conc. / £6 members)
A 2008 meditation on the decline of empires, juxtaposing the twilight stages of the Habsburg dynasty, one of the most important royal houses in Europe, with those of the current American administration. Using archival imagery, live readings from the texts of Joseph Roth, and a live musical score led by the late American singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt the film is a unique hybrid of a documented concert and film essay.

Notes to editors

  • Jem Cohen (born 1962, Kabul) is a New York-based filmmaker/media artist whose works are built from his own ongoing archive of street footage, portraits, and sound. His films and installations often navigate the grey area between documentary, narrative, and experimental genres.
  • His latest feature, Counting (2015), and Chain (2012) premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Chain was broadcast on Arte and the Sundance Channel and won an Independent Spirit Award.  His 2012 film Museum Hours bought his work to a new audience internationally. Benjamin Smoke, co-directed with Peter Sillen, was selected for festivals including Berlin, Edinburgh, Melbourne, London, and Vancouver. It was released theatrically by Cowboy Pictures, and won First Prize at the Full Frame Documentary Festival. Instrument, the feature-length documentary made with the band, Fugazi, premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival and was chosen for the 2000 Whitney Biennial. Cohen’s Lost Book Found premiered at the Pandæmonium Festival (London), and won First Prizes at Locarno, the Bonn Videonale, Film + Arc (Graz, Austria), and the Festival Dei Popoli (Florence). Earlier works include This is a History of New York, Just Hold Still, and Buried in Light, which was originally commissioned by the High Museum in Atlanta as a 3-channel video installation. Amber City, an Italian city portrait, won a First Prize at Locarno ’99. Other films include Blood Orange Sky, another commissioned portrait of a city in Sicily, and the shorts, NYC Weights and Measures and Little FlagsChain X Three, a three-screen, 40-minute projection, showed as an installation at Eyebeam (New York) and the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) as well as in a Museum of Modern Art series of Cohen’s works.
  • Cohen has had retrospectives at venues including the NFT in London, Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (BAFICI), the Gijon Film Fest (Spain) and the Oberhausen Film Fest (Germany).  Cohen curated the Fusebox Festival at Vooruit in Belgium in 2005, and directed an evening of film with live music, EVENING’S CIVIL TWILIGHT IN EMPIRES OF TIN, at the 2007 Viennale Film Festival. He did a series of collaborative films and installations with Patti Smith for her recent show at the Fondation Cartier in Paris.
  • Cohen has worked extensively with musicians including Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Fugazi, Vic Chesnutt, the Ex, Terry Riley, Elliott Smith, R.E.M., Sparklehorse, and the Orpheus Orchestra.
  • Cohen’s films have been broadcast in Europe by the BBC and ZDF/ARTE, and in the U.S. by the Sundance Channel and PBS. They are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art in the U.S., and Screen Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. He has received grants from organisations including the Guggenheim, Creative Capital, Rockefeller, and Alpert Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Jem Cohen: Compass and Magnet is curated by Gareth Evans, Adjunct Film Curator at Whitechapel Gallery.


Booking information

Whitechapel Gallery
Web: Tel: +44 (0)20 7522 7888

Web: Tel: +44 (0)20 7638 8891

Hackney Picturehouse
Web: Tel: +44 (0)871 902 5734


For further press information, images or interview requests please contact:

Whitechapel Gallery 
Alex O’Neill, Senior Press and Communications Officer
Tel: +44 (0)20 7539 3360

Eleonora Claps, Senior Media Relations Officer – Music
T: 020 7382 6199

Hackney Picturehouse
Kirsty Jones, Marketing Manager
Tel: +44(0)20 8986 3600

Press enquiries

Colette Downing
Communications Manager
T +44 (0)207 539 3315

Other enquiries

For all other communications enquiries please contact:
T +44 (0)20 7522 7888