Producer Arthur Cohn honored by Academy

Six-time Oscar winner and Swiss producer Arthur Cohn was honored for his body of work by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Cohn attributes much of his success to a piece of advice Shakespeare put into the mouth of Polonius: “This above all, to thine own self be true.” Though speaking more colloquially, Cohn cited the rule as one of his guiding principles during an Academy evening devoted to his body of work May 19.

The occasion marked the 40th anniversary screening of Cohn’s 1971 breakthrough success, “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the story of an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that falls victim to Mussolini’s anti-Semitic purge during World War II.

As Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis noted, in the pantheon of Holocaust films, “Garden” is one of the few that has maintained its power to this day.

Drawing lessons from his 50-year career as a producer, Cohn elaborated on his guiding principles, which include “always use authentic settings” and “the audience must be able to identify with the actors.”

Other principles are follow one’s own intuition, don’t listen to objections by others and be true to oneself. By way of illustration, Cohn said, after “Garden” was finished, the film was turned down by 31 distributors — until it unexpectedly won an Oscar as the year’s best foreign language film.

Cohn’s philosophy may have been inspired by his grandfather, once the chief rabbi of Basel, Switzerland, who invited Theodor Herzl to hold the first Zionist Congress there after rabbis elsewhere objected. — jta