Hervé Cohen | 2024 JFI Filmmaker in Residence

Jewish Film Institute
4 min readMar 18, 2024

The Jewish Film Institute is proud to feature 2024 Filmmaker in Residence Hervé Cohen and his project This Little Song as our JFI Resident Spotlight for the month of March 2024. Read on for an exclusive JFI interview with Cohen about the story behind his project!

About the Film: The only link that connects Hervé Cohen to Algeria, the country of his ancestors, are the stories of his Jewish grandmother, and a lullaby that she used to sing in Arabic charged with the bitterness of exile from a lost country. This Little Song is a journey in the footsteps of a lost Judeo-Arabic melody, unearthing the memory of a time when Jewish and Muslim indigenous communities of Algeria shared a culture.

A still from This Little Song. Courtesy of Hervé Cohen.

Jewish Film Institute: What inspired you to make this film?

Hervé Cohen: As a descendant of Algerian Jews, I have always felt a deep connection to Algeria despite never having set foot there. The stories from my grandmother about her cherished Algeria, where bonds between Jews and Muslims ran deep, sparked a desire in me to delve deeper into my Jewish/Arabic heritage. I felt that the little song that my Jewish grandmother used to sing to me in Arabic could be a guiding thread on a cinematic journey to Algeria, reminiscing the shared connections that once existed between Jews and Muslims.

JFI: Where are you now in the filmmaking process?

HC: I have undertaken multiple trips to Algeria, gradually capturing a few images and filming conversations with the the locals on each occasion. Each trip has been a blessing and incredibly fulfilling. I still consider myself to be in the early stages of my journey though. There is still much ground left to explore and cover.

JFI: How is the JFI Filmmaker Residency helping you develop your project?

HC: What I appreciate most about the JFI Filmmaker Residency is the sense of inclusion within a community of filmmakers who, like myself, are working on film projects at various stages of development. Here, we can support one another, exchange thoughts on our respective projects. We are just starting our journey together, but I know this framework is what I need to make progress in developing my film.

JFI: How does this story add to our collective understanding of Jewish life, culture, history or identity?

HC: This film highlights a diverse Jewish heritage, including Muslim, Arabic, and Berber cultures from North Africa. It’s important for people, especially in America where most Jews come from Eastern Europe, to know that Arabic and Jewish cultures have been historically intertwined, rather than antagonistic.

A still from This Little Song. Courtesy of Hervé Cohen.

JFI: If you could screen your film as a double feature with any film, what movie would you choose and why?

HC: I would choose Mariner of the Mountains by Karim Ainouz, a beautifully crafted film about the director’s personal journey to Algeria. Ainouz, a Brazilian filmmaker with Algerian heritage, explores his Berber roots in the village of his family’s origin. I would love to juxtapose my exploration of ancestral ties in Algeria as an Algerian Jew alongside Ainouz’s perspective as a descendant of Algerian Berbers. Screening these films together would offer viewers two unique narratives of reconnecting with roots through exploration in the same country.

About the Filmmaker: Hervé Cohen is an award-winning French-American filmmaker and cinematographer. He has traveled the world to capture compelling stories: from the countryside of China, following the work of three traveling projectionists; via Senegal capturing the initiation ceremony of a young Diola; the entire United States, and filming a family road movie during the Democratic Primaries following the Obama campaign.

About the JFI Filmmakers in Residence Program: The JFI Filmmakers in Residence Program is a year-long artist residency that provides creative, marketing, and production support for emerging and established filmmakers whose documentary projects explore and expand thoughtful consideration of Jewish history, life, culture, and identity.

Learn more at: https://jfi.org/for-filmmakers



Jewish Film Institute

The Jewish Film Institute, based in San Francisco, champions bold films and filmmakers that expand and evolve the Jewish story for audiences everywhere. jfi.org