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The struggle to create a new outlet for our avant-garde films


Creation of The Film-Makers' Cooperative
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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By 1960, 1961, it became... already there was a body of the avant-garde and semi avant-garde of different varieties of independent film, but it became clear that we have no outlets, no distribution because there, there few distribution outlets that existed, they were very much in the European film or in the documentary, socially sort of from, very socially conscious documentaries and or... or the only outlet for the avant-garde was Cinema 16, and Cinema 16 had already developed its own repertoire or preferences, and our cinema was not taken for distribution, our films, and usually the, the main argument was that we are amateurs, that they're not professionally made that they, that we are not serious about cinema. So it's at that time that we decided that we should have our own distribution centre. And in, that was in January '62, and I called a meeting in my loft and we all decided, about 20, 25 of us came to the meeting to create our own cooperative distribution centre and that's how that came all about. There was no other way of doing.

Now why cooperative, because when I was a child, there was a cooperative, farmers had created to help themselves, you know, in the city, in our villages, several cooperatives, and when my father could not, did not have time to go to the meetings he used to send me, or, or my brothers, when they could, did not want to go they sent me to those meetings. So I used to sit there and listen so I knew about, it and then I had a friend, Almus Salcius, who became later very much involved in Fluxus and with George, became very close friend of George and actually the very name Fluxus they concocted together and they created together the AG Gallery, the first Fluxus Gallery on Madison and 75th Street and it's a completely different story. And his father was the leading... leading specialist on cooperatives in, in Europe. He traveled, he helped to create various cooperatives, he wrote books on cooperatives, or systems, so that somehow was in the, I think, without being conscious of it when it came to creation of the cooperative, I think that that affected... helped to... me to come to this idea that it should be cooperative and, of course, there were you know four or five basic rules then immediately applied so that it's not for profit, nobody, that it's, nobody's for profit, all income goes to the filmmakers themselves, that it's controlled by the filmmakers themselves and no preference made between one or another, and that's where the advertising went out and promotion, it's all alphabetical. And that remains till this day. So, I think it came from my childhood again, the cooperative and, of course, that affected George also when he was creating cooperative buildings in Soho, he was building up Soho, the... idea cooperative.

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.

Tags: Cinema 16, Fluxus, AG Gallery, Soho, Almus Salcius

Duration: 4 minutes, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008