It would be correct and appropriate if the Sundance Film Festival could somehow arrange for some kind of special tribute to the late Jonas Mekas, the “godfather of American avant-garde cinema” who passed this morning at age 96. Mekas is a major historical indie-realm figure, and it would just seem…well, curious if Sundance didn’t make an effort to honor the guy.
The Lithuanian-born Mekas was a filmmaker, journalist-critic, poet and creative collaborator of Andy Warhol, Nico, Allen Ginsberg, Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Salvador Dalí. He stood up and articulated a vision and a platform for alternative cinema in the mid ’50s, and he kept that torch burning for the rest of his life.
Until recently Mekas was presiding over the AFA as artistic director and was planning “a long-dormant expansion plan to build a cafe, a rooftop terrance and a library to house decades of film materials gathered around the world,” according to a 2017 Indiewire profile. At the time Mekas had “raised around $4.5 million from donations and silent auctions” with a target goal of “just over $12 million.”
I know Mekas best as the co-founder of the Anthology Film Archives (32 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003), which he and colleagues Stan Brakhage, Ken Kelman, Peter Kubelka, James Broughton and P. Adams Sitney launched in 1970. As the managing editor of the short-lived Thousand Eyes Cinema Guide (’78 and ’79), I would publish Anthology program plans on a monthly basis. The last time I visited the AFA was for a screening of John Flynn‘s The Outfit (’73).
Here’s a warm-hearted essay on Mekas by seasoned journalist-critic Robert Koehler.