Anthology Film Archives

After years of dreaming, planning, and herculean efforts on the part of Jonas Mekas and his collaborators, Anthology Film Archives welcomed visitors for the first time with an event and reception on November 30, 1970 (followed by the public opening the following day, December 1). This year, then, marks half a century of Anthology as a cinema, archive, library – and community – devoted to experimental filmmaking.

Anthology emerged out of the incredible counter-cultural ferment of New York City in the 1950s-60s, and evolved most directly from Mekas’s earlier determination to create institutions that would nurture and sustain the avant-garde, including Film Culture Magazine (founded 1955), the Film-Makers’ Cooperative (1961), and the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque (1964). Where those organizations fostered the discussion, distribution, and exhibition of experimental cinema, Anthology was initially conceived of as something more akin to a museum, as a bold assertion that avant-garde filmmaking was not simply a curious fringe phenomenon, but a movement worthy of sustained and permanent study, institutional support, and – crucially – preservation.
When Anthology first opened within the walls of Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, its foundation was the Essential Cinema repertory collection, a selection of films chosen by a committee comprising Mekas, Stan Brakhage, James Broughton, Ken Kelman, Peter Kubelka, and P. Adams Sitney. Prints of most of the selected films were acquired and screened continuously, in a six-week cycle, in a specially designed and constructed auditorium known as the Invisible Cinema. The Essential Cinema collection was intended to grow over time, an ambition that was stymied when Anthology’s first benefactor, Jerome Hill, passed away in 1972. As the institution moved from site to site – including to 80 Wooster Street (one of George Maciunas’s “Fluxhouses”, and from 1967-68 a venue for the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque), and finally to its current home at the Second Avenue Courthouse – it evolved and expanded. Its collections grew to encompass thousands of films, far beyond the original selection, as well as books, journals, photographs, videotapes, audiotapes, and paper documents. Its commitment to preservation – to saving artist films that often existed only as a handful of fragile small-gauge prints or elements, and with no other institutional or financial support to prevent these works from falling into oblivion – became increasingly crucial to Anthology’s mission (since its founding, Anthology has preserved over 1,000 films). And its programming too expanded by leaps and bounds, coming to feature avant-garde and independent films – and videos – of all kinds. Ultimately, with the renovation of the Courthouse into a film center equipped with two theaters, a gallery, a library, and extensive film vaults, Anthology redoubled its efforts towards film preservation, and strove to present as eclectic a body of programming as it could, limited only by a commitment to radical artistic and commercial independence and a determination to present work that might not find a home elsewhere.

As we reach the milestone of 50 years, and look ahead to our next half century, Anthology’s next great ambition is to evolve even further, by realizing Jonas Mekas’s dream of a substantial renovation resulting in a new library, new and greatly expanded film vaults, a new elevator, and more. This project – which is on the verge of becoming a reality – will improve conditions for film preservation, study, and exhibition, and broaden access for students, researchers, filmmakers, and the general public. For more on the project, including ways to support it as we make the final push, please visit this page.

While the pandemic has greatly complicated our plans to celebrate the anniversary, we will nonetheless be marking the occasion in various ways this year and next. For information about our various 50th anniversary (online) programs, visit this page. And we are also marking the occasion with a major, ongoing project: we’ve been reaching out to filmmakers, artists, scholars, and others to bear witness to Anthology’s value – to the influence it’s had on their own work, its significance within the history of avant-garde cinema and art, and its place in the sphere of contemporary culture in NYC and beyond. These testimonials have taken the form of short videos – some comprising newly produced short films in their own right – which we’ll be sharing throughout the coming weeks and months. A selection of the videos that have already been contributed – by filmmakers and artists including Peggy Ahwesh, Alec Baldwin, Stephanie Barber, Manuel DeLanda, Richard Hell, Jim Jarmusch, Jennifer Reeder, John Waters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and many others – are showcased here, on Anthology’s Vimeo page. We’ll continue to gather and share these testimonials throughout the rest of the year, and into 2021, as well as presenting more 50th anniversary programs (hopefully culminating with in-person events when circumstances allow!).

50th Anniversary programming details are available here.
To see the 50th Anniversary tribute videos, click here.