Is Jem Cohen a terrorist?

Anyone who's serious about independent film knows Jem Cohen. His films have screened all over the place, including three—Benjamin Smoke; Instrument (a documentary about Fugazi), and Chain Times Three—that showed here at the Walker Art Center. But to the terror-fighters at Homeland Security, his use of a movie camera might mean he's a terrorist.

This January, Cohen was using his hand-wound 16mm Bolex to film passing scenes out a train window en route from NYC to DC, something he's done for 15 years. After an Amtrak ticket-taker asked him to stop filming, he was met by four armed police officers at a stop in Philadelphia; they confiscated his film. When he arrived in Washington DC, he was confronted by FBI and Homeland Security officers who questioned his motives and credentials. As Doug Thompson writes, the situation is yet another example of the Bush administration's "callous disregard for freedoms we once thought were protected by the Constitution." An excerpt of his Capitol Blue column:
"As a filmmaker who does most of my work in a documentary mode and often on the street, my role is to record the world as it is and as it unfolds,” Cohen writes in the spring issue of American Filmmakermagazine. “I build projects from an archive of footage collected in my daily wanderings, and in travels across this country and overseas. I film buildings and passersby, the sky, streets and waterways, the structures that make up our cities, life as it is lived.”

Perhaps in the old days, as in before September 11, 2001, but to the basement level IQs that dominate the White House police state mentality, taking pictures is a threat to national security. When Cohen asked about getting his film back, the thick-necked morons in the black suits told him the film had been turned over the National Terrorism Task Force. That was five months ago and he is still waiting to get his footage back.

“Street shooting is one of the cornerstones of photography itself and it is facing serious new threats, some declared, many not,” Cohen says. “In New York City the MTA apparently intends to forbid all unpermitted photography of and from its trains and subways.”
Cohen should be known to those in government: his digital print, showing the faces of Bush and Bin Laden with a headline "Both want war / Both unelected"--was acquired by the Library of Congress.
(Via SpeakSpeak.)

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