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Renegade Filmmaker Jem Cohen Brings Two Films to the Texas Theatre This Weekend

Talented Friends will present two of Cohen’s feature films, including his documentary about the band Fugazi. It showcases the artistry of a director who works outside the mainstream.
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The Texas Theatre.

Filmmaker Jem Cohen is coming to the Texas Theatre this weekend for screenings of the 1999 Fugazi documentary Instrument and the 2012 drama Museum Hours

“Jem Cohen is one of my favorite filmmakers ever,” says Jason Reimer, founding partner of Aviation Cinemas and co-founder of Talented Friends, the creative production company presenting Cohen’s films. “For a musician like myself who became a filmmaker, Jem Cohen was largely the focal point of that inspiration… I’ve wanted Jem to come to the theater for quite some time.”

Originally, Cohen planned to come to the Texas Theatre in 2020, but the pandemic put the plans on an indefinite hold. “I’m just bringing something back from the dead,” says Cohen. The delay means that this 2024 showing of Instrument, a documentary following iconic post-hardcore band Fugazi that was filmed over more than 10 years, will coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

Looking back on it, Cohen says he still takes pride in Instrument. “It holds up very well,” he says. “I find it still surprises me. I think that the construction, the editing, in particular, was pretty bold. And when we made it, we had no great expectations. We didn’t really even know if Fugazi fans would be that interested. So we kind of made it largely for ourselves as a document of the experience that the band had together…and that I had with them.”

Complementing Instrument will be a screening of 2012’s Museum Hours. Cohen describes the film as “…basically a fiction film, although I think all of my films are what I would call ‘hybrids’ that combine documentary and narrative elements. Museum Hours very much so. So it’s kind of an essay film about why art is important, as well as a story of this guard and a visiting woman from Canada played by the amazing Mary Margaret O’Hara.”

While on the surface, it may seem that an independent drama film centered around a Viennese art museum would exist on the opposite end of the spectrum from a decade-spanning documentary about an influential anti-consumerist punk band, Cohen sees things differently.

“Well, from a distance it would seem that Museum Hours and Instrument are very different beasts, but I’m quite happy with the idea that they screen at the Texas Theatre on the same weekend because, to me, it’s all of a piece,” he says. “All of my work has certain common threads, both in terms of the kind of ridiculously outside-of-the-industry way that I generally work, and also just in terms of what interests me in the world.”

Cohen also sees similarities in how the two films were captured. “Like Instrument, [Museum Hours] was made…catch as catch can over a long period of time, with me taking on many of the roles that are often taken on by a larger crew. Occasionally there was a crew, but even [then] it was maybe four or five people rather than the 20 or 30 or 100 that you might find on a standard film set.”

Cohen goes on to say, “There’s a…for lack of a better word, ‘do it yourself’ spirit that is there in all of the film projects. It’s what makes them possible, but it’s also what makes them…kind of renegade.” He attributes this to the influence punk music had on him in high school, which taught him “that there were ways to work outside of the standard industry models. And that, with a lot of hard work, you…create your own factory or you become a factory.”

True to form, Cohen will be making the most of his trip to Texas. In addition to sharing and discussing his work with audiences at the Texas Theatre, he also intends to capture footage during the solar eclipse on Monday. 

“In my daily life I’m shooting all the time, I’m collecting audio,” says Cohen. “Filmmaking is, for me, very much a kind of daily part of my life, rather than something that you write a script for, and then you have a very set production period in which you’re essentially illustrating that script. And so…for better and worse, because it can become quite frustrating, projects overlap and sometimes they take…10 or 20 years, even, to complete.”

It’s an approach that gives Cohen’s films a unique texture: “You get to experience and bring to the screen long arcs of experience and documentation of a changing world landscape, and it becomes a very organic process that isn’t really separable from just living.”

By his count, Cohen has made around 70 films, with about seven of them being feature length. Some of these are available on major streaming outlets, and Cohen also maintains a PPV Vimeo through which viewers can support his work.

“I love to bring my work to an audience and talk about it,” says Cohen. His hope is that the audience will be open to new experiences when engaging with his films. “I think that the…people who think that they’re just interested in music or punk or Fugazi should take a chance on Museum Hours…and the people who think that…they wouldn’t like a loud, crazy film about a punk band should take a chance on Instrument and mix it up.”

Museum Hours will screen at the Texas Theatre on Saturday, April 6, at 4 p.m. and Instrument will screen Sunday, April 7, at 5 p.m. Both screenings will be accompanied by Q&As with Cohen, while Instrument will also include a pre-recorded interview with members of Fugazi. Art prints of a poster for Instrument, designed by artist Jay Ryan, will also be available for purchase.

Tickets are available here.

Author

Austin Zook

Austin Zook

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