Anthology Film Archives

FILM-MAKERS’ CINEMATHEQUE / JEWISH MUSEUM

May 3 – May 31

This spring the Jewish Museum presents “Jonas Mekas: The Camera Was Always Running”, a major exhibition celebrating the centenary of filmmaker, poet, artist, and Anthology Film Archives co-founder Jonas Mekas. This new exhibition, however, does not represent the first intersection between Jonas, the Jewish Museum, and the realm of cinema that Anthology was founded to preserve and present. From 1963-70, Mekas and his collaborators organized dozens and dozens of experimental film programs, under the auspices of an organization that was known briefly as the Film-Maker’s Showcase before adopting its permanent name, the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque. A roving screening series, which was in some ways a kind of precursor to Anthology, the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque hopped from venue to venue frequently during the course of its existence, with residencies at the New Yorker Theater, the Astor Place Playhouse, 125 West 41st Street, and 80 Wooster Street, to name only a few. In its very last phase, leading up to (and in fact briefly overlapping with) the creation of Anthology, the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque held weekly (Tuesday) screenings at the Jewish Museum, from November 1968 to December 1970.

The Jewish Museum screenings came about thanks to the good graces of the Jewish Museum’s Director at the time, Karl Katz, on whose watch the Museum had been presenting adventurous programming which caught Jonas’s eye, and inspired him to propose a collaboration. The Cinematheque programming that took place over the course of those years is, from today’s perspective, an intriguing mixture of filmmakers and films that would soon be effectively canonized as part of the nascent Anthology Film Archives’ “Essential Cinema” collection, as well as numerous other filmmakers who are little-known and rarely-screened today.

Renewing our collaboration with the Jewish Museum more than fifty years after the final Film-Makers’ Cinematheque program, Anthology will present a series of screenings throughout May that will (as much as possible) recreate a selection of the Cinematheque programs that took place there in 1968-70. These programs focus on filmmakers who were notably omitted from the Essential Cinema cycle, demonstrating the breadth of programming presented by the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque, as well as the extraordinary vitality of the experimental film scene of the time.

“Fortunate circumstances brought the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque and its avant-garde program to the Jewish Museum. Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian filmmaker who ran the program, had held screenings somewhat peripatetically for five years. Mekas, who had spent time in a Nazi war camp during World War II, had been kicked out of several public auditoriums, arrested for his films’ violation of obscenity laws, and was often in financial hardship. In 1968 he was – once again – without a space. Mekas knew of the Jewish Museum’s recent penchant for edgy programming and thought it worth asking us: Could there be room for his films at the Jewish Museum?

I was glad to provide a forum for Mekas’s cutting-edge program. We had a space that was dark most nights of the week; what was the harm? I often stopped by the screenings on my way out of the building, but rarely stayed long. He said that the films he showed focused on the ‘poetry rather than prose’ of cinema…which meant largely black-and-white, non-narrative films. I tried to watch, but the sputtering images mostly reminded me of something getting stuck in a sprocket. Call me crass, but I liked color. And a story. But even if these poetic films weren’t my cup of tea, I was happy to host the program, which brought a throng of downtown artists to the Upper East Side every week.” –Karl Katz, THE EXHIBITIONIST: LIVING MUSEUMS, LOVING MUSEUMS

This series is co-presented by Anthology Film Archives and the Jewish Museum. The Jewish Museum’s exhibition, “Jonas Mekas: The Camera Was Always Running”, is on view through June 5, 2022; for more info visit: https://thejewishmuseum.org/exhibitions/jonas-mekas-the-camera-was-always-running. Jewish Museum Members will be able to purchase tickets for these screenings at Anthology’s $7 discounted rate.

Special thanks to Kelly Taxter, Jenna Weiss, Nelly Benedek, and Kristina Parsons (Jewish Museum); as well as to Neelon Crawford, Nathaniel Dorsky, Sebastian Mekas, Michael Mideke, Robert Polidori, Michael Snow, Jo Hayward-Haines & Tim Haines, Jesse Brossoit (CFMDC), Seth Mitter (Canyon Cinema), and MM Serra (Film-Makers’ Coop).

Upcoming Screenings

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