Jonas Mekas

"The nature of the video camera really makes you focus on the present. Since I have always been a diarist filmmaker, not one who stages scenes with actors, it has always been about the present moment"

Jonas Mekas

Jonas Mekas, who sadly passed away recently, was a towering figure in underground cinema.

Born in Lithuania but arriving in New York as an émigré after the Second World War, Mekas would found the influential film journal Film Culture, the Film-Maker’s Co-operative and the Filmmakers’ Cinematheque, which would become the Anthology Film Archives – a huge archive for experimental film that he initiated in unison with Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka and Stan Brakhage.

He was a columnist for the Village Voice newspaper from 1958 onwards, and a collaborator with artists including Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Allen Ginsberg. Through his writings and his archival work, he was a major supporter of avant-garde filmmakers including Jack Smith, Gregory Markopoulos, Hollis Frampton and Michael Snow.

His own films span more than half a century, including diary-based works such as Diaries, Notes and Sketches (aka Walden, 1969), Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), Lost Lost Lost (1975) and the nearly five-hour As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, a compilation of his home movies that had its world premiere at the London Film Festival in 2000.

His style can be characterised as that of a moving image scrap-book maker, constructing films from fleeting fragments, shot intermittently in the midst of the various other forms of cultural industry which consumed him. But collaged by Mekas, these transient moments acquire a poetry that is unmistakably his. 

The BFI hosted a retrospective of Jonas Mekas' work in 2014. Read Georgia Korossi's interview with season curator Mark Webber here.