Laurel Cohen

Student filmmaker Laurel Cohen. Photo by Shannon Zahnle


A boy wants to feed his new hermit crab — but what does it eat? He pokes it with a carrot. A banana. A Pop-Tart. His earnest (if adorably misguided) attempts to bond with the crustacean sprang from the imagination of Bloomington native Laurel Cohen, a 21-year-old student filmmaker at Northwestern University. Her debut flick, Jonah and the Crab, which explores a child’s relationship with his pet, has earned accolades from Hollywood to Toronto. Huffington Post art critic George Heymont called it “one of the sweetest shorts I’ve seen in a long, long time.” And Cohen is just getting started.

The Bloomington High School South graduate said her mother, local architect Christine Matheu, always pushed her to follow her artistic dreams. “I grew up believing that as long as I love what I’m doing, everything will be fine,” she says.

At 13, she made a YouTube music video to the Blind Melon song “No Rain” on a Sony camcorder — “my first movie,” she says. By 17, Cohen (then known as Kati) penned a high school advice column for The Herald-Times. “I love storytelling, and I love visuals. I knew I wanted to find a way to combine that.”

At Northwestern, Cohen joined the university’s student-run Studio 22 and received a grant to produce Jonah and the Crab, which she wrote and directed her freshman year. The short film has to date played at 13 film festivals across North America. “I remember opening up the email and I just started screaming,” Cohen said of her first acceptance letter. This year, at the Toronto International Film Festival, she stood on stage next to Pixar director Saschka Unseld, one of her heroes, and took questions from the audience. “It was the coolest experience of my life.”

Cohen, now in post-production of her second kids’ film The House That Wren Built, is already brainstorming her third. She plans to finish the script when she’s home next in Bloomington — preferably with a cup of hot chocolate at Soma Coffeehouse and Juice Bar, her favorite writing spot. As for the future, Cohen hasn’t looked far beyond the summer. “I’m applying to film internships all over the place — New York, Los Angeles,” she says. But her dream: “I want to work on the kind of films you see at Sundance.”

‘Jonah and the Crab’ Trailer