Centennial Celebration of Jonas Mekas
Curated by Lukas Brasiskis and Inesa Brašiškė
Jonas Mekas’ Cinematic Friendships: Collaboration, Care and Support
Three Expanded Screenings programmed for the Mekas Studio at Mana Contemporary by Lukas Brasiskis and Inesa Brašiškė, curators of the exhibition “Jonas Mekas and the New York Avant-Garde” that is now installed at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius, Lithuania. Informed by their research done for the exhibition the curators propose three events that will echoe their interest in looking at Jonas Mekas in “expanded sense”.
Mekas’ cinematographic vocabulary is autobiographical and poetic; it combines both fiction and documentary and merges personal experience with the sociocultural landscape of his times. Mekas’ creative life is inextricably intertwined with films by others: films by artists who influenced Mekas’ aesthetic and political sensibility and films by friends he fiercely advocated for. The three events seek to tease out three recurrent motives informing Mekas’ creative life: nurtured friendships, strong belief in the freedom of artistic expression and poetry of the quotidian.
“Among Friends: Cinematic Portraits of Mekas”
February 12th, 2022
Jonas Mekas has always been known as a filmmaker making sketches, notes and portraits. In the 2000s, he started to exhibit photographic blowups of frames from his 16mm films presenting portraits of his friends cinematically imprinted in his life.
Pretty rarely, however, one can see narrative and non-narrative film portraits of Jonas Mekas made by other filmmakers throughout the 20th century. In this first screening we present a few famous portraits of Mekas done by his friends.
After the screening, the discussion on the films and the importance of portrait for the American Avant-Garde cinema will follow. Some portraits Mekas made of his friends will be exhibited at the Mekas’ Studio and presented by Sebastian Mekas.
“In Defense of Artistic Freedom: Infamous Surprise Program”
Mar 12th, 2022
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, licensors 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.
“Filmmaking as Taking Notes. Poetry of the Mundane in films by Marie Menken and Jonas Mekas”
Apr 9th, 2022
Jonas Mekas always celebrated the poetry of film. Marie Menken was his favorite film poet. In this screening we will present the select films of Menken and Mekas and have the discussion about Menken’s influence on Mekas’ film style and their continuous friendship. The belief that filmmaking is just another way of taking notes shared by both artists will be a premise for the discussion. Marie Menken’s Glimpses of the Garden (1957), Notebook (1962) and Lights (1966) alongside Mekas’ Notes on the Circus (1966) and Cassis (1966) will be screened.
The post-screening discussion will follow. Select Mekas’ texts on Marie Menken will be read and discussed.