Remembering An American Avant-Garde Icon; Jonas Mekas

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In 2001, the second annual Woodstock Film Festival, we were honored to have the legendary co-founder & chairman of Anthology Film Archives, Jonas Mekas, who curated for the festival a special three-day program of American Avant-Garde cinema. Mr. Mekas programmed the three days by periods, chronicling the history of American Avant-Garde throughout the years. Enormously influential, particularly in New York’s early underground cinema, the pioneering filmmaker and curator hosted the three-day program, titled A Taste of the Avant-Garde, himself, presenting films in all formats, primarily 8mm and 16mm. Among the seminal Avant-Garde films selected by Mekas were Harry Smith’s The Films of Harry Smith (1939-46), Maya Deren’s A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), Kenneth Anger’s Eaux D’Artifice (1953), Andy Warhol’s Haircut (1964), Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight (1963), Jonas Mekas’ Notes on the Circus (1966), Bruce Conner’s Valse Triste (1979), and Peter Hutton’s Study of a River, A Seasonal Study of the Hudson River (1996), to name a few.

That year the late pioneer digital filmmaker Gary Winick, founder of InDigEnt, attended the Woodstock Film Festival as well with his own film, Sam the Man. The two participated in a panel exploring the wide and diverse span of filmmaking.

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Mr. Mekas got his start curating experimental films in New York City in the 1950s. In 1954, Mekas and his brother Adolfas, co-founded the American Film Magazine Film Culture. He started directing his own features in the 1960s including, “Guns of the Trees” and “The Brig”. He worked with Andy Warhol, John Lennon, Allen Ginsberg, and Salvador Dali, among many other prominent cultural artists. In 1970 Mekas, along with colleagues Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka and Stan Brakhage, opened the Anthology Film Archives, an international center for the preservation, study, and exhibition of film and video, with a particular focus on independent, experimental, and avant-garde cinema. In the decades since its founding, Anthology has grown far beyond its original concept to encompass film and video preservation; the formation of a reference library containing the world’s largest collection of books, periodicals, stills, and other paper materials related to avant-garde cinema; and a remarkably innovative and eclectic film exhibition program.

Mr. Mekas passed away quietly at his home on Wednesday January 23. He was 96 years old. He will be greatly missed, and never forgotten. Rest in peace.