At the age of three, Charles Cohen fell in love with the movies when his grandmother took him to see Cinderella. He made her sit through it twice. He spent his pre-teen years watching as many foreign films as possible at a movie theatre near his home in New York’s Westchester County. Sometimes he hopped the bus to White Plains to see double features.
He also made three short films between ages 16 and 20. “Movies were a window to the world for me,” he says.
After law school, he went to work for, and later bought out, his family’s Cohen Brothers Realty—the source of his $2.8-billion fortune—but his cinéaste side remained. At first he kept his interest private, spending about $500,000 to build an elaborate theatre in 1994 beneath his Greenwich, Connecticut, mansion (which you can see in these photos). Over the years, he spent another $500,000 on upgrades such as a digital projector to play 3D films and a curved movie screen that’s brighter than normal screens, intended for movies shot with ultra-high-definition lenses or in 3D.
He has, however, stepped out of his theatre to further indulge his passion. In 2008, he invested in and produced Frozen River, directed by a colleague’s wife. He lost a little money, but the film received two Oscar nominations. Two years later, he started a film-distribution company, and he now has the rights to 1,000 mostly classic and international movies—including the 2017 Oscar winner for best foreign film, The Salesman, an Iranian picture he distributed with Amazon Studios in the US.
Coming soon, Cohen is creating stylish movie houses—he began by renovating the Quad Cinema in Greenwich Village and reopening it in April—and is producing a remake of the 1970s family favourite Benji.