Jonas Mekas, godfather of underground cinema, dies aged 96

The writer, filmmaker and poet Jonas Mekas was a lifelong champion of avant-garde filmmaking and its preservation.

Updated:

Jonas Mekas with his Bolex camera

Jonas Mekas with his Bolex camera
Credit: Boris Lehman

Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-born filmmaker and archivist who became known as the godfather of avant-garde cinema, has died aged 96.

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 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.

The BFI hosted a two-month retrospective of Mekas’s work in 2014, coinciding with a Mekas exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery.

A full obituary will appear on bfi.org.uk shortly.

Read more

Further reading

Back to the top

See something different

Subscribe now for exclusive offers and the best of cinema.
Hand-picked.