Jonas Mekas is a Lithuanian filmmaker, writer, and curator who has often been called "the godfather of American avant-garde cinema." His work influenced many contemporary artists and has been exhibited around the world. Recently, he gave an interview to Examiner.com, reflecting on his artistic journey and influence on American cinema at large
1. You were a poet and filmmaker in Lithuania. Two weeks after you arrived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
you bought your first Bolex 16mm camera and began making films. What was your first film?
Yes, I got my first Bolex camera a few weeks after being dropped in New York by the United Nations Refugee Organization. That was on October 29th, 1949. With my brother Adolfas, we wanted to make a film about displaced persons, how one feels being uprooted from one's home. So we began filming and collecting material for it. But it happened so that Adolfas was soon drafted into the Army and shipped to Europe. I continued filming, but things soon became more complicated when I got connected with the New York film and poetry scenes and the project was sort of dropped. But I used that footage twenty years later in my film LOST LOST LOST (1976).
2. Do you think avant-garde film existed in the United States before 1949?
Of course it existed! A few years ago Bruce Posner and Anthology Film Archives mounted a big show of the early --1920-1940 -- American film avant-garde, you can get it on a DVD set called UNSEEN CINEMA, issued by Image Entertainment, I think in Los Angeles. But the real beginning of the American avant-garde film movement usually is dated with the work of Maya Deren, with her film MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON, 1943. A whole generation of avant-garde filmmakers in USA emerged around that time, Gregory Markopoulos, Kenneth Anger, Whitney brothers, Harry Smith and many others. When I came to New York in 1949 there was already an entire fresh avant-garde film movement blooming in New York and California. It was a very very exciting period!
3. In 1962, you co-founded Film-Makers’ Cooperative (FMC) and the Filmmaker’s Cinematheque in 1964, which eventually grew into Anthology Film Archives. What your collection consisted of in 1962?
Film-Makers' Cooperative: We created it (in February 1962) because no film distributor wanted to distribute our films. It's run entirely by film-makers themselves. There are over 800 independent film-makers who belong to it, and there are over 6000 films available to whoever wants them. The catalogue is on line. There are two film coops in United States, one in New York, another in San Francisco (it's called Canyon Cinema).
4. Can you talk about your diary film “As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty”, which you assembled by hand from an archive of fifty years worth of recordings of your life. Do you think it is an accurate description of your artistic career and life?
It's a five hour long film diary about my family, children growing up, friends, things I love and want to share with my friends. Nothing important, it's all simple,"insignificant" daily life. To me the joy, surprise and excitement that a child finds in making his/her first steps is far more important and "dramatic" than anything that any action movie can give. If you want to know more about diaristic form of cinema and what I am doing these days, go to http://www.jonasmekasfilms.com and you'll find there more than you hoped for.