Working in Jerusalem: A couple of filmmakers

Working in Jerusalem A

david and daria cohen (photo credit: )
david and daria cohen
(photo credit: )
'They say there are couples who finish each other's thoughts. We finish each other's edits," says David Cohen, who works with his wife Daria at their small Jerusalem-based company called CoVisions. The twentysomething American-Israeli couple makes documentary films and what it calls "human media productions." "The bug that bit me was documentary work," says David. "I've worked on big sets, on drama productions, as director of photography, but it's the visual that I was really after." In fact, David had an early start to his photographic endeavors when his filmmaking dad handed him his trusty Canon A1 stills camera when he was hardly knee high to a grasshopper. Still, infant zest is not generally quite enough to carve out a successful career and, after spending his teen years and early 20s in Israel - at high school followed by a stint in the IDF Spokesman's unit - David returned to his native Chicago to do a degree in communication, film and sociology at Northwestern University. With his piece of paper secured, David and his Tel Aviv-born wife Daria decided to come back to Israel to try to capture life here on film. David and Daria first met at high school and, in time, realized they also shared a love of film-related matters. "I started getting into editing," says Daria. "I'd spend hours and hours editing all kinds of film. I enjoy piecing things together and painting the story that I think is the strongest one to show." Daria eventually became the CoVisions film editor. "Although it's a challenge to work on anything with someone you're close to. I've been working on a script with my dad for a while, and it can sometimes be tough to express what you want," observes David. Said "dad" is a certain Michael Cohen who won an Emmy in 1981 for his work on a documentary called Blind Love. "When we decided to come back to Israel [in June 2008], we wanted to do things through our film work that meant something to us and, hopefully, would contribute something to others," says David. "We work with various NPOs. For instance, right now we're doing something for the JSPCA - the Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals." Even so, the Cohens weren't exactly strangers to this country and had a fair idea of what to expect when they got back here. "I thought that when we returned to Israel, we'd be doing a lot of political stuff because that seemed like the most natural and normal thing to do," says Daria. In fact, their initial politically oriented efforts provided them with something of a scoop of global proportions. "We decided to do some filming of President Obama's visit here," says Daria. "It wasn't certain that he'd make it to the Western Wall, but we hung around there. Eventually he arrived and put his scrap of paper in the wall, and we later caught on film some kid taking Obama's piece of paper out of the wall." That footage became a fleeting hit in the US on YouTube and elsewhere and could have provided CoVisions with some invaluable global media exposure. But, it seems, that's not what the Cohens are about. "They wanted to interview me on American TV and Israeli TV, but I turned them down," David declares. "I actually felt sorry for the kid who took the piece of paper. It could have been great PR for us, but I didn't want to profit from some poor kid who was probably raked over the coals by his rabbi and his community." Besides their NPO work, the Cohens are keen on human interest stories. One of the projects they are running right now is a documentary about an octogenarian Jerusalemite Holocaust survivor. "He has no kids and has never been married. He has a really interesting story, and we're there to listen," David explains. "Are we making any money on it? Obviously not. What draws us to this story is what draws any artist to anything. It's a little bit of instinct, a little bit of compassion, and he really wants to tell his story, and hopefully others will want to hear it." "There are definitely a lot of stories to tell, and a lot of people and organizations need helping," says Daria, adding that she and her husband have some more expansive intent, too. "We want people around the world to know that Israel is not just about political stuff. And that goes for people here, too. There are plenty of people in Israel who think this place is only about drama and problems and conflict. There is also a lot of good happening here as well. We want to get that message out there." But that doesn't just involve pointing the camera in the right direction, editing, packaging and marketing. According to David, there are moral issues too, such as the planned documentary about a colorful settler who lives near Hebron. "We shot about 45 hours of this guy, but in the end we realized that what we filmed was liable to come across as a really negative statement about Jews and could be used in an anti-Semitic way. So we had to put a stop to that. As an artist you are naturally curious and want to investigate things, but you also have to be aware of how people are going to interpret what you show them." Ideally, David says he'd like to marry the pure drama of life here with politics and "the beauty of Israel and the beauty of some of the interesting people here. I'd really like to direct a full-length drama that feeds off all of that.