Date of Lecture: 2003-03-14
Curator, writer and filmmaker Jonas Mekas is the godfather of American avant-garde filmmaking, or the New American Cinema, as he dubbed it in the late 1950s. The founder of Anthology Film Archives, the Filmmakers’ Cooperative and Film Culture magazine, Mekas helped shape the public image of avant-garde filmmaking in America, and profoundly influenced its self-identity.
Born in Lithuania in 1922, Mekas spent the Second World War in displaced persons camps before emigrating to the United States with his brother, Adolfas, in 1949. He discovered avant-garde film at venues like Amos Vogel’s pioneering Cinema 16, and began screening films himself in 1953. In 1954, Mekas published the first issue of Film Culture, America’s iconoclastic answer to Cahiers du Cinéma. Originally devoted to auteurist criticism, featuring Andrew Sarris, Peter Bogdanovich, Herman Weinberg and many others, Film Culture ultimately became the mouthpiece of the American avant-garde. In 1958, Mekas began writing his “Movie Journal” column for the Village Voice, spotlighting the newest and most radical filmmakers in New York City. In 1962, he founded the Filmmakers’ Cooperative (FMC) with Emile de Antonio, Shirley Clarke and others. The FMC remains in operation, with the world’s largest circulating collection of avant-garde films. In 1964, Mekas founded the Filmmakers’ Cinémathèque, which eventually grew into Anthology Film Archives, one of the world’s largest and most important repositories of avant-garde films.
Brian Frye, Senses of Cinema