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In Defense of Artistic Freedom: Infamous Surprise Program

March 12 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


A true supporter of freedom of artistic expression, in the early sixties Jonas Mekas fiercely fought some important battles against film censorship. He was the one who first wrote about Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures and organized its theatrical premiere. Championed by Mekas, the film caused the backlash from NY film censors, licensers and some theater owners. In December 1963, Flaming Creatures was selected to be screened at the The Third International Film Exposition in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, but fearing obscenity complaints the selection jury decided not to show it. Outraged by the decision, Mekas resigned from the position of the festival’s jury and organized special screenings of Flaming Creatures in his hotel room attended by known European filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Varda, Roman Polanski and others, all subject to arrest by the local police. In 1964, Mekas kept showing Flaming Creatures across screening spaces in New York, often as part of the so-called “infamous surprise program” that also included films by Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger, Ron Rice and others. On March 3, NYPD detectives broke up a near-capacity screening at The New Bowery Theater, seized a print of the film and arrested Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs, and Florence Karpf who were charged for violation of New York’s obscenity law. While waiting for an approaching trial, Mekas projected Jean Genet’s film Un Chant d’Amour and was arrested for the second time. On 12 June 1964 the Court sentenced Mekas and Jacobs to sixty days in the city workhouse. In the aftermath of the events, the Filmmakers’ Co-op had to temporarily halt their public screenings and think about, in Mekas own words, subtler ways to go around the issue of distribution of works by the New American Cinema filmmakers. 

Celebrating Mekas’ dedication to the advocacy of the artistic freedom in this screening we will show several films that will be announced in early February. The post-screening discussion will follow. Some important documents on Mekas fights against censorship will be exhibited and presented by Sebastian Mekas.

Special Event Note:

The Monria Foundation offers wheelchair accessible space for this event. Large print curatorial statements and program information are available as you enter the space. They will be made available online after the start of the event. If you have special requests for your visit, we are happy to accommodate. Please contact Anne Muntges anne@monirafoundation.org.

RSVP for 3pm Screening and Q&A

4 Going


March 12
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Jonas Mekas Studio
Monira Foundation


Mana Contemporary Jersey City
888 Newark Ave
Jersey City, NJ 07306 United States
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