Underground cinema icon Jonas Mekas has been a witness to the changing landscape of New York’s film culture since arriving in the city in 1949. Today, at ninety-four, he remains one of its most venerated figures. In addition to winning acclaim for pioneering diary films such as Walden (1969) and Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1971), the Lithuanian-born artist has long been an indefatigable advocate of his comrades in the avant-garde, finding ways to collect, distribute, and exhibit their work through the two institutions he was instrumental in establishing, the Film-Makers’ Cooperative and Anthology Film Archives. In the clip above, excerpted from a 2000 interview, Mekas sits down with independent-film trailblazer John Pierson to recount the wealth of viewing possibilities he enjoyed as a moviegoer in midcentury New York, from the experimental showcases at Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16 to the silent classics screened at the Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society.
Watch the interview in full now on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, where it streams as part of the sixth season of the TV series Split Screen, Pierson’s vibrant chronicle of American film culture at the turn of the millennium. And check out some of the other episodes we’ve just premiered from the show, including segments with Billy Wilder, George Kuchar, and Guy Maddin.