This Side of Paradise: Jonas Mekas

Howl! Happening is deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-American filmmaker, poet and artist born in 1922, whose contribution to the Downtown Manhattan arts scene spanned nearly seven decades of experimentation, performance and leadership.

Having left his home country to escape wartime conditions in 1944, Jonas and his brother Adolfas spent eight months in a German labor camp, escaped through Denmark and ultimately arrived in the US to settle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There he began to document his life’s moments with his first Bolex 16mm camera.

In 1962, Mr. Mekas co-founded The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, which later became Anthology Film Archives, where he served as director until his death. A close collaborator with artists such as Andy Warhol, Nico, Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Salvador Dalí, and fellow Lithuanian George Maciunas, Mekas taught at the New School for Social Research, MIT, Cooper Union, and New York University.

Memories of Jonas and his brother Adolfas (who died in 2011) walking arm in arm are still vivid from the years they campaigned for a building which would become the unique and great Anthology Film Archives. Their commitment to finding a home for all things celluloid was and is still one of our community’s greatest gifts.

Jonas Mekas performs at the “House Divided” group poetry reading, the Great Hall of Cooper Union, April 2017. Photo Sam O’Hana