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the magazine – Jonas Mekas – New York’s godfather of underground cinema

You know it, at esther bancel we love all those who take risks and are not afraid not to please everyone. Today, we wanted to talk about a rather extraordinary artist in his genre: Jonas Mekas.

You know it, at esther bancel we love all those who take risks and are not afraid not to please everyone. Today, we wanted to talk about a rather extraordinary artist in his genre: Jonas Mekas.

Jonas Mekas, a Lithuanian who became an underground star artist.

Born in 1922, he wrote his first poems at the age of 12. Then engaged in the Resistance during the Second World War and even imprisoned in camps, he continued to write poems. In 1949, after several years of tossing and turning around Europe, from prison camps to homes for displaced people, he and his brother took their luggage to the United States and Brooklyn. It was there that he bought his first camera, the famous 16 mm Bolex, which became the natural extension of his arm.

Credit: Jack Davison, Styling Nell Kalonji.

Credit: Christopher Felver/Corbis.

Credit: Das Sensuelle Labor

At the age of 27, Jonas Mekas began to keep his diary on film. He even is the inventor of what is called the “movie-journal”:

a diary kept by a person about the events of his life, his thoughts, his observations. He then directed a series of independent films, each more intense than the previous one: Walden (1969), Lost Lost Lost (1976), Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol (1990), This Side of Paradise (1999), As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000).

Thrown into the New York underground art scene, he became one of its main protagonists, “the godfather” even.

A kind of prophet who stands at the intersection of all these creative, subversive or iconoclastic scenes. Because in addition to filming himself, he will also be a film programmer, a polemic critic, an activist for creative freedom, and the founder of places for the distribution and preservation of cinema…

No one wanted to distribute our cutting-edge films. And we needed solidarity. Against censorship or against trade unions, who wanted to prohibit us from making films as we wanted, alone, with a camera, without a team.

That is why in 1962, he co-founded The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative for the distribution of independent and experimental cinema. This led him to spend time in prison when he broadcast Jean Genet’s “Un chant d’amour” in 1964, which was at the time very controversial because it openly evoked homosexuality.

Adored by many artistic figures, Jonas Mekas collaborated in his life with Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Salvator Dali, John Lennon, George Macunias, Bob Dylan… and even Agnes B in Paris.

For the rest of his life, Jonas Mekas will continue to travel the world with a single obsession: promoting artistic freedom and the popularization of experimental cinema.
Unfortunately, he passed away on January 23, 2019 at the age of 96, leaving us with a gigantic legacy both in terms of artistic work and commitment to all those who want to be free enough to be who they really are. We therefore had a duty to introduce you to this man who inspires us and will always inspire us in the mission that is ours.

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