Fifty years ago today, Anthology Film Archives presented its first screenings in its specially designed Invisible Cinema in Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York. To celebrate half a century devoted to avant-garde cinema, Anthology has just made the entire thirty-five-minute program freely accessible online: Georges Méliès’s Voyage Across the Impossible (1904), Joseph Cornell’s The Midnight Party (completed by Lawrence Jordan in 1968), Jerome Hill’s Canaries (1969), and Harry Smith’s Film No. 11 (Mirror Animations) (1957).
While the pandemic has temporarily closed its doors, Anthology is not celebrating alone. From around the world, dozens of filmmakers including Peggy Ahwesh, Jem Cohen, Nathaniel Dorsky, Robert Downey Sr., Bette Gordon, Ken Jacobs, Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara, Jackie Raynal, Béla Tarr, John Waters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Frederick Wiseman have been sending in short tribute videos, and the collection will carry on expanding over the next several weeks and months.
The driving force behind Anthology’s founding in 1970 was Jonas Mekas, who had arrived in New York in 1949 with his brother, Adolfas, from Lithuania by way of displaced persons’ camps in Germany. The brothers started shooting films on a Bolex 16 mm camera almost immediately, and in 1955, they began publishing the influential journal Film Culture. A few years later, Jonas Mekas was writing the first regular movie column for the Village Voice and was instrumental in the founding of the the Film-Makers’ Cooperative in 1961 and the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque in 1964.
With Stan Brakhage, James Broughton, Ken Kelman, Peter Kubelka, and P. Adams Sitney, Mekas put together the Essential Cinema repertory collection of 330 films slotted into 110 programs that have been screening ever since as a cycle throughout each year alongside smartly curated series and retrospectives. In 1972, Jerome Hill, the filmmaker and benefactor so crucial to getting Anthology up on its feet, passed away, so two years later, Anthology relocated to Wooster Street. In October 1988, Anthology opened the doors to its new and present location, the renovated Second Avenue Courthouse featuring two theaters, a library, a gallery, and an archive dedicated to the ongoing preservation of vital experimental film and video.
In his final years, Mekas, who passed away early last year, tirelessly campaigned to realize Anthology’s next phase, a major renovation of the building that will expand the library and the film vaults and provide greater access to filmmakers, students, researchers, and cinephiles. Anyone willing and able to chip in toward Anthology’s next fifty years can do so right here.
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