Jonas Mekas, Esteemed Experimental Filmmaker, Dies Aged 96

The director worked with prominent figures in New York’s avant garde, including Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Jonas Mekas, 1965. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Fred W. McDarrah

Jonas Mekas, 1965. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Fred W. McDarrah

Pioneering filmmaker Jonas Mekas has died aged 96. Born in Lithuania, he fled the Nazis in 1944 and eventually emigrated to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He went on to work with the leading lights of New York’s avant garde, including Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Mekas’s death was announced in a post on his Facebook page: ‘Jonas passed away quietly and peacefully early this morning. He was at home with family. He will be greatly missed but his light shines on.’ The news was confirmed by Anthology Film Archives, the New York theatre cofounded by Mekas. The cause of death has not been provided.

Widely known as ‘the godfather of American avant-garde cinema’, the director made over 60 films, published poetry and wrote for magazines including his well known ‘Movie Journal’ column for Village Voice. Writing in frieze in 2006, Jan Verwoert described how ‘Mekas’ creativity lies as much in the making of film as in the construction of a discourse of avant-garde cinema that allows these films to emerge.’

In 2006, the director represented Lithuania at the Venice Biennale: ‘We made our way into the pavilion and were instantly transfixed. We watched for an hour or so in silence, fully absorbed by the radiant images of the film shown on the main screen,’ writes Verwoert in his profile of the filmmaker.

Mekas’s films were characterised by their flickering images and impressionistic style. In a frieze video interview with the filmmaker from 2012, Mekas described how he ‘had short bits of time, and used them to record life around me. I discovered that I was really keeping a film diary. Maybe I was born to be an anthropologist.’

In a frieze questionnaire from 2013, Mekas responded to our question ‘What should stay the same?’, with: ‘Clean air, clean earth, clean water.’ 

Latest Magazines

Janiva Ellis, Catchphrase Coping Mechanism, 2019, oil on linen, 2.2 x 1.8 m. Courtesy: the artist and 47 Canal, New York; photograph: Joerg Lohse

frieze magazine

May 2019

frieze magazine

June - July - August 2019

frieze magazine

September 2019