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Jonas Mekas: Anthology Film Archives

The godfather of American avant-garde discusses the 40th Anniversary of NYC’s Anthology Film Archives, Paris, Bjork, and celebrating the present

The 88-year-old godfather of American avant-garde film celebrates a life time of counter culture cinema with an epic event in New York City on the 27th April featuring Harmony Korine, Marina Abramović ,Ólöf Arnalds, Richard Barone and more. Hosted by Jonas Mekas himself, the event honours those important filmmakers preserving authentic cinema. The Anthology Film Archives, co-founded by Mekas in the 70s also celebrates its 40th Anniversary, a cathedral of cinema that houses over 70,000 historic films, creating a one-of-a-kind preserve and one of the most important flag bearers for independent cinema worldwide.

Dazed Digital: How is everything coming along for the Anthology Film Archives 40th Anniversary?
Jonas Mekas: We’re busy but we’ll make it in time and it will be beautiful. 

DD: So it doesn’t get easier?
Jonas Mekas: Ah no! It’s still a lot of hard work.

DD: You’ve got some amazing friends and guests performing. Can you introduce some of them?
Jonas Mekas: Olof Arnolds from Iceland is very exciting new discovery for us. A new, unique voice and personality who sometime sings with Bjork, we were lucky to hear her in Berlin and Paris and now in New York. Harmony Korine will tap dance. When he was young - he is still young but as a teenager - he did a lot of tap dancing professionally. Marina Abramović we’re still not sure but she always comes through strong. There’s also this new group called Transgendered Jesus who will have only their second performance in New York at the event.

DD: It feels like the whole of New York City is supporting you? 
Jonas Mekas: Yes. We have a letter from our mayor congratulating us on our 40th anniversary. However Anthology Film Archives is very much international, exchanging films with various archives around the world and very deeply involved in film preservation. Each month our programme covers all the genres, all countries and all periods of cinema, from classics to the most contemporary and alternative forms of cinema.

DD: You have over 70,000 titles archived, how many did you start with?
Jonas Mekas: We started with some 300 titles that were selected by a five person selection team and we argued before including any title within that 300. These make up our Essential Cinema Repertory collection and reflects very much where cinema was around 1970.

DD: What does a film need to emanate to be included?
Jonas Mekas: In a way it’s Darwin’s Law in action. That is, films we want to see again and again. Their survival depends on their intensity, their meaning, films that one wants to keep and exchange with others. When you protect film, the energy that comes from that screen because of the light, that needs to be preserved. Whatever was made on film should be seen on film.

DD: And as a filmmaker you’re always welcoming in the future.

Jonas Mekas:
I’m not so much in the future as always in the present. The future always takes care of itself. What I do now with my video camera, it can only record what is happening now. I am celebrating reality and the essence of the moment. And that’s the greatest challenge that I have.

DD: You have a couple of shows also coming up in Paris, what do you love about the city?
Jonas Mekas: I like their nightlife and they like the same things that I like. Good wine and they love cinema. One of the shows is new video and film, the other is a print show on paper of the Kennedy children from the 1970s called, “This Side of Paradise”.

DD: What’s the Heaven and Earth library?
Jonas Mekas: We are now beginning to revisit the original designs by Raimund Abraham and amongst the projection spaces and vaults there was a cafeteria and separate library that we couldn’t finish because of money. We are looking to complete this with the Heaven and Earth Library. It will have a very special bistro there too. 

DD: Congratulations on the 40th anniversary of the Cathedral of Cinema!
Jonas Mekas: Come all! Come, come come and see Korine tap dance and Ólöf singing. And by the way, the venue City Winery even makes it’s own wine, they have barrels in the basement and that makes us even happier.

Anthology Film Archives 40th Anniversary Concert at City Winery NYC on 27th April