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Coming to America; the difference between immigrants and refugees

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Post-war Europe - a university
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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We have to go south and so, we moved slowly and that's, you know, it's described in my book "I had nowhere to go". Our journey from Flensburg, the border of Denmark down to the south to the Bavaria. It was a long and, I mean, trip to the post-war, immediate post-war Germany when Nazi was running. We only saw the ruins and disaster and that's when we settled in Wiesbaden and that's when we stayed for some time and, and joined- already it was an American, what they call it, an American zone and then we signed up to study at the University of Mainz which was across the river Rhine, right next to Wiesbaden and that's where our university, that's where, like a break, complete different life begins. That's, I consider that my university was post-war Europe, was Germany and that when I came here it was already my practi- beginning to work. My childhood was in Lithuania, my university was Europe and because those four years in displaced person camps - four years - was my university where we could read. There was a lot of time, we read everything we, you can imagine that between the Soviet occupation, the German occupation, the whole war period, nothing was available from the west, from, nobody, we were so thirsty and like a dry sponge drinking everything that we could find after the war, you know, the whole American literature, the French, it was an incredible, incredible rich period for those who want, who were ready and wanted it. And of course still, when we came in the fall of 49 to New York, that was another, another treasury, another that you could not even find in post-war Europe which was, you know, still post-war Europe. And here, you know, there was no, no post-war, it was just America, just New York.

Jonas Mekas (1922-2019), Lithuanian-born poet, philosopher and film-maker, set up film collectives, the Anthology Film Archive, published filmzines and made hundreds of films, all contributing to his title as 'the godfather of American avant-garde cinema'. He emigrated to America after escaping from a forced labour camp in Germany in 1945.

Listeners: Amy Taubin

Amy Taubin is a contributing editor for "Film Comment" magazine and "Sight and Sound" magazine. Her book, "Taxi Driver", was published in 2000 in the British Film Institute's Film Classics series. Her chapter on "America: The Modern Era" is part of "The Critics Choice" published by Billboard Press, 2001, and her critical essays are included in many anthologies, mostly recently in "Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank" published by Scalo.

She wrote for "The Village Voice" weekly from 1987 into 2001 both as a film and a television critic. She also wrote a column for the "Village Voice" titled "Art and Industry" which covered American independent filmmaking. Her first weekly film criticism job was at the "SoHo Weekly News". Her writing has also appeared in "Art Forum", the "New York Times", the "New York Daily News", the "LA Weekly", "Millennium Film Journal", "US Harpers Bazaar" and many other magazines. She is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online.

She started her professional life as an actress, appearing most notably on Broadway in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", and in avant-garde films, among them Michael Snow's "Wavelength", Andy Warhol's "Couch", and Jonas Mekas' "Diaries, Notebooks and Sketches".

Her own avant-garde film, "In the Bag" (1981) is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Friends of Young Cinema Archives in Berlin.

She was the video and film curator of "The Kitchen" from 1983-1987.

She has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from N.Y.U. in cinema studies. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in both the undergraduate and the MFA graduate programs, and lectures frequently at museums, media centers, and academic institutions. In 2003, she received the School of Visual Arts' art historian teaching award.

Duration: 3 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008