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Jonas Mekas, Influential Experimental Filmmaker, Dies at 96

Jonas Mekas, the Lithuania-born filmmaker who started Film Culture magazine and the organization that became New York’s Anthology Film Archives, died Wednesday. He was 96.

Anthology Film Archives wrote on Instagram, “He will be greatly missed but his light shines on.”

His first feature was 1962’s “Guns of the Trees,” while 1964’s “The Brig” won the Venice Film Festival’s Grand Prix. As a cinematographer, he shot avant-garde films including much of Andy Warhol’s “Empire.”

Mekas was a pioneer of trying new approaches to film as art, and in 2007 released one short film each day of the year on the internet. His other, often autobiographical, films include “Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol,” “Letter from Greenpoint” and “Out-takes From the Life of a Happy Man.” As late as 2013, the 90-year old was making films like “Reminiszenzen aus Deutschland.”

He worked with artists such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith and Salvador Dali, and shot the only footage of the Velvet Underground’s first show in 1964.

Ono remembered him on Twitter, writing “The world will miss you.”

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Filmmakers including Jim Jarmusch tweeted their thoughts. Jarmusch called him “the poets’ version of a Kung Fu master.”

Mekas told IndieWire in 2017 that despite the difficulty of funding the arts, he doesn’t believe in too much government support, because “once you begin to depend on the government, then the government begins to dictate the art.”

In addition to his filmmaking, Mekas wrote more than 20 books and taught  at the New School for Social Research, the International Center for Photography, Cooper Union, NYU and MIT.

He is survived by a son, a daughter and a granddaughter.

 

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