Movie festival features American avant-garde cinema with a Lithuanian touch

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This February Jameson Dublin International Film Festival gives a rare opportunityto watch a retrospective of avant-garde filmmmaker's Jonas Mekas' work. Although in his homeland Lithuania 85-year-old Mekas is better known as a poet and many still are unfamiliar with his experimental films, for some Lithuanians Mekas is what James Joyce or U2 are to the Irish - a reason to be proud and celebrate their identity.

Mekas is widely regarded as one of the leading figures of American avant-garde filmmaking or the “New American Cinema,” with the likes of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali appearing in the innumerable hours of his film diaries reflecting on his life in New York, where he has been working for the past 60 years. As one of the filmmakers' fans has observed, before there was internet, "Reality TV" or YouTube, there were the films of Jonas Mekas. Quite a life for somebody who nearly became a baker in Chicago.

Mekas was born in a small village in Lithuania and in 1944 with his brother Adolfas he was taken by the Nazis and imprisoned in a forced labor camp in Nazi Germany. After the War, he studied philosophy at the University of Mainz and in 1949 with his brother he emigrated to the U.S. Initially they were heading to Chicago, where Mekas was supposed to become a baker, but two weeks after the arrival he borrowed the money to buy his first Bolex camera and began to film his life. Moreover, Mekas became a keen supporter of experimental cinema and also one of the founders of Anthology Film Archives in New York - one of the world's largest and most important repositories of avant-garde films. His efforts in promoting underground cinema have been recognized worldwide.

The filmmaker calls his films a celebration of life. Faces of celebrities merge with memories of Lithuania, episodes from trips to Europe are followed by conversations with his friends on philosophy in his New York loft. His handheld camera produces frames which are not knit together by a script, but by the act of filming. His frames flick, pause, suddenly are interrupted by Lithuanian folk singing, continue and flick again. Hours of film diaries turn into a spectacle of cinematic vision.
Dublin International Film Festival, in association with Solus - an independent film collective promoting Irish and international short and avant-garde films, will present five of Mekas' movies: As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, The Brig, Notes on a Circus, Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania and A Letter from Greenpoint. The filmmaker himself will arrive to Dublin as well, so if you happen to stumble across the man with his signature hat and a video camera, you might be included in one of his films.

While The New York Times suggests that the length of some of his movies may call for coffee and blankets - one of them is nearly five hours long - Mekas claims that in fact all of his film work is one long film which is still continuing. “I don't really make films: I only keep filming. I am a filmer", he remarks.

Written for "Metro Eireann"

This Post has 4 Comments Add your own!
seanachie - February 9, 2008 at 10:01 PM

Have you seen any of the 365 short films that Mekas did for free download on his website last year? Most of them were video diaries, with only the briefest snatches of narrative, but they were fascinating to watch, and a lot more convenient than his longer films (!) As my Lithuanian friend Mykolas said when dismissing my worry at sitting through the three hours of Inland Empire: 'it's not as if it's a 13-hour film by Jonas Mekas'.

Another thing I find particularly admirable about Mekas is his perennial youthfulness; he is incredibly encouraging of younger artists, as is evident in the video diaries, and I also recall attending an avant-garde film night in Paris six years ago, where a pair of young New York filmmakers showed a short film made with the participation of Mekas himself. Wonderful generosity.

And though I know why you used the U2 analogy, Bono and his fellow corporate rockers are nothing on Mekas and will be long forgotten when people are still passing copies of Mekas films on to friends. Great piece! :)

Primal Sneeze - February 12, 2008 at 6:51 AM

Lina, Lina, Lina! You've made the short-list for the Irish Blog Awards!

In the Best Blog from a Journalist category.

Lina - February 12, 2008 at 9:45 PM

Hey, Primal :) Toasting this with a bottle of cheap Lithuanian sparkling wine!!! :) What are the odds now? :) And thanks for all the support!

Lina - February 12, 2008 at 9:46 PM

yes, I have seen Mekas' shorts - pretty cool for an 85-year old, huh? :)

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