Cohn was born to a Jewish family, the son of Marcus Cohn, a lawyer and leader of the Swiss Zionist movement who moved to Israel in 1949 where he helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state and served as Israel’s assistant attorney-general. Cohn's mother, Rose Cohn-Galewski, was a Jewish-German poet from Berlin. Cohn's grandfather, Arthur Cohn, was the first chief rabbi of Basel. After completing high school, Cohn became a journalist and a reporter for Swiss Radio, covering the Middle East as well as soccer and ice hockey games. He shifted from journalist writing to script writing, but soon found his passion in film production.
Six of his films have won the Academy Award, three in the category of Best Foreign Language Film and three in the category of Best Documentary Feature. Cohn was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture in 1995, the Humanitarian Award by the National Board of Review in 2001, the Guardian of Zion Award in 2004 as well as the UNESCO Award in 2005. He is a multiple honorary degree recipient from Boston University (1998), Yeshiva University (2001), the University of Basel (2006) and Bar-Ilan University (2021) . Cohn has received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Chicago International Film Festival (1992), the Shanghai International Film Festival (1999), as well as from the International Film Festivals in Jerusalem (1995) and Haifa (2016).
Cohn divides his time between Basel and Los Angeles and is regarded as a hands-on producer who is strongly involved with the development of the script until the final touches of the editing process. For decades he was assisted by Lillian Birnbaum (Paris) and Pierre Rothschild (Zurich). Arthur Cohn's films have been shown at many retrospectives around the world.
His best-known fictional film is The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970, directed by Vittorio De Sica). He also produced films by Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September) and Walter Salles (Central Station, Behind the Sun).
|1961||Sky Above and Mud Beneath (Le Ciel et la Boue)||Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature|
|1964||Paris Secret||Documentary Feature|
|1967||Woman Times Seven||starring Shirley MacLaine and Peter Sellers|
|1968||A Place for Lovers (Amanti)||starring Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni|
|1970||Sunflower (I Girasoli)||starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni|
|The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini)||Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film|
|1972||We'll Call Him Andrew (Lo chiameremo Andrea)||starring Nino Manfredi|
|1973||A Brief Vacation (Una breve vacanza)||David di Donatello Award Winner|
|1976||Black and White in Color (Noir et Blanc en Couleur)||Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film|
|1979||Adoption (L'adoption)||starring Geraldine Chaplin|
|1981||The Yellow Star – The Persecution of the Jews in Europe 1933-45 (Der Gelbe Stern)||Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Feature|
|1984||Love on the Ground (L'Amour par Terre)||starring Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin|
|Dangerous Moves (La Diagonale du Fou)||Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film|
|1990||American Dream||Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature|
|1991||November Days||Documentary Feature|
|1995||Two Bits||starring Al Pacino|
|1997||White Lies||starring Rosanna Arquette and Harvey Fierstein|
|1998||Central Station (Central do Brasil)||Academy Award Nominee and Golden Globe Winner for Best Foreign Language Film|
|1999||Children of the Night||Documentary Short with rare footage of Children in the Holocaust|
|One Day in September||Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature|
|2001||Behind the Sun (Abril Despedaçado)||Golden Globe Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film|
|2004||The Chorus (Les Choristes)||Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and for Best Music|
|2008||The Yellow Handkerchief||starring William Hurt, Maria Bello, Eddie Redmayne and Kristen Stewart|
|The Children of Huang Shi||starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Radha Mitchell and Chow Yun-Fat|
|2009||Feathered Fan and Silken Ribbon||Documentary Feature|
|2012||Russian Disco||based on Wladimir Kaminer's acclaimed book|
|2018||The Etruscan Smile||starring Brian Cox, Rosanna Arquette, Thora Birch and JJ Feild|