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Reel Talk

Reel Talk

Kevin J. Elliott

When the Wexner Center celebrates their five-day Cinema Revival festival later this month, there will certainly be talk of the usual movers and shakers when it comes to the world of film restoration. The Criterion Collection will be presenting a program on the newly minted version of Satyajit Ray’s epic Apu Trilogy, Sony Pictures will have a 4K restoration of Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, and Disney will unveil some lesser-known milestones from their animation studios. But most intriguing on the card will be two films, in Jamaica Inn and Syncopation, that were plucked right from our backyard—courtesy of the Cohen Collection.

Long before it was the reputable restoration house that it is today, the Cohen Collection was the massive library of Raymond Rohauer, himself one of the first Hollywood pioneers to put an emphasis on the study and preservation of great films. Later in his career he had the foresight to gain the exclusive rights to important works by Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith. Sometime in the mid-’80s, the 700-plus reels were moved to Columbus, and in 2011 they were purchased by Charles S. Cohen, who took it upon himself to assure the archive would be consistently restored for future generations.

So now, when the Cannes Film Festival wants to spotlight cinematic classics recently resurrected, such as Keaton’s The General or the aforementioned, Jamaica Inn, which was Alfred Hitchcock’s last film made in the U.K., they turn to Columbus and the vice president and primary caretaker of the Cohen Film Collection, Tim Lanza.

“For me, film as an artform is a shared cultural memory. I think it’s the most important art form. What we want to do is be able to preserve that and make those films available for years to come. I’ve got kids and I want them to be able to see these films.”

Lanza started as an assistant to the once-vibrant film program at the Columbus Museum of Art while he was employed at the long-revered haven for film geeks, Aardvark Video. It was there, and in the curating of a Keaton festival at the CMA, that he became aware that such an important archive existed in Columbus. Years later he found himself steward of Cohen’s treasure trove of cinema, scouring through it all and making big decisions as to what got the gold-star treatment in the restoration queue.

“It depends on a lot of things. There’s the historical value of the films, or it simply depends on how much material we have of a certain film,” says Lanza of any hierarchy given to Cohen’s restorations. “Then you also have to consider a film’s commercial value. A lot of times we schedule restorations to coincide with an anniversary of some sort.”

The technical work itself, from scanning to clean up and celluloid stabilization, is contracted out to lab partners in Los Angeles, the U.K., and Atlanta, but the distribution and broadcast of the masters, as well as the production of trailers and bonus material, is done in the collection’s headquarters, whose discrete address remains unpublished.

“Time and money are the two biggest obstacles in our process, but it’s also finding the best material that we have,” says Lanza. “For example [D.W. Griffith’s] Intolerance: we had to use three different negatives. In some cases there was just one shot that was better in one element, and we had to piece it together with the best parts.”

That dedication to detail has led the Cohen Collection to be spoken in the same breath as Criterion and Sony. These days you can even stream its greatest successes, from Luis Bunuel’s Tristana and Intolerance on Hulu, but it’s undoubtedly on the big screen in the world’s premiere movie houses where the Cohen Collection shines brightest.

“Here’s a film in Intolerance, an important film made in 1916, that we premiered at Film Forum in New York, which is probably the most important venue for classics,” says Lanza. “They had to hold it over for another week, and it played for even longer than that. A film from 1916 doing well today, to me, is fantastic.”

Whether it’s a mammoth landmark like Fairbanks’ 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad or the collection’s latest restoration, Syncopation, a rarely seen, independent film from 1942 about the jazz age, which stands as a highlight during the Wex’s Cinema Revival, there’s an intangible success to Lanza and the Cohen Collection’s hard work that can’t be measured commercially or monetarily.

“For me, film as an artform is a shared cultural memory. I think it’s the most important art form. What we want to do is be able to preserve that and make those films available for years to come. I’ve got kids and I want them to be able to see these films.”

For more information on the Cohen Film Collection visit

For a full schedule of films and presentations during Cinema Revival: A Festival of Film Restoration visit


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