Thursday, April 20, 2000

A peek into the ancient world

Profits go to archaeological dig in Turkey

BY Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Coming soon to the Joseph-Beth bookstore near you: Gladiators.

Sheila and Getzel Cohen of Amberly Village brought their talents to the Gladiators video project.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Not the DreamWorks zillion-dollar movie being released May 5, but a 22-minute videotape produced in Cincinnati.

        Gladiators is the fourth video produced by the Institute for Mediterranean Studies, based in the Amberley Village home of classics professor Getzel Cohen and his wife, Sheila.

        It's a combination of the professor's scholarship and Mrs. Cohen's talents for choreography, images and production.

        “It's her creative effort, not mine,” Dr. Cohen said in a recent interview in his University of Cincinnati office. “I can't write a script.”

        However, what he doesn't know about the ancient Mediterranean, his colleagues and friends do.

        The Cohens' first three videos focused on Greek culture and it was time to do something on Rome.

        Coincidentally, David Potter, a classics professor at the University of Michigan, mentioned his course on Roman sports and entertainment.

        Jocks love it, Dr. Cohen said. “It was a course the whole football team comes to.”

        Dr. Potter brought his shtick to the video project and the Cohens negotiated access to gladiatorial art from dozens of museums. Dr. Cohen wanted viewers to see the sculptures, bas reliefs and other “images that the ancients saw.”

        Dr. Potter said most gladiators came from classes — criminals, slaves, prisoners of war and others — not generally found in the stands cheering them on.

        Successful gladiators became wildly popular with crowds and upper class women, and action figures were sold outside coliseums where they fought.

        Further, gladiators were a “valuable commodity” and the goal was to fight well and win rather than seriously injure or kill an opponent.

        This month, Gladiators is among 40 films selected for the Cinarchea festival in Kiel, Germany. Last year, it was shown at the 10th annual festival of films on archaeology in Rovereto, Italy. A review in Video Librarian awarded Gladiators 31/2 stars out of a possible four.

        Target audiences include students at almost any level.

        Mrs. Cohen, head of the dance department at Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts, takes her husband's ideas and contacts, adds her research, then choreographs each tape, bringing together lighting, scenery, costumes and motion, composers and musicians, and script and art.

        Her goal is to express each curator or narrator's point of view. “As a performer, that was easy.”

        This second career began in the mid-1990s when Dr. Cohen asked her to work on the inaugural video. After looking at other educational videos, she concluded, “I could do a helluva lot better.”

        Unlike her husband, Mrs. Cohen is paid for her work on the videos. “I don't work for nothing. I'm a professional.”

        Dr. Cohen raises money to produce the tapes, markets them worldwide and puts any profit into the dig at Troy in Turkey where UC and Germany's University of Tuebingen work together.

        So far, the videos haven't been a cash cow, he conceded, but they satisfy a deeper personal need.

        “I love the field and I love teaching. I just wanted to share it with a larger group. I just wanted to share the excitement of the ancient world.”


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