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Jon Jost Retires (Sort Of): His Thoughts on Nearly 50 Years of Filmmaking

By Indiewire | Indiewire October 21, 2013 at 4:41PM

Veteran experimental filmmaker Jon Jost is retiring from submitting to film festivals and filling out forms, but he will continue to create.
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Jon Jost
Jon Jost

Experimental narrative filmmaker Jon Jost recently announced on his blog that he is retiring from the social aspect of being a filmmaker, but that he will continue making things. He told Indiewire that he will retire from the "festival hustle and the other PR/survival/money-oriented stuff that encrusts film/media-making (and for the most part all of our commercialized society)." He has given Indiewire permission to reprint his original blog post which charts his nearly 50-year filmmaking career. Read his entire post below:

In a few months, come January 2014, I will finish 50 years of filmmaking, and trundle on, inshallah, to number 51. Back in 1963, arriving with $50 to my name in Italy, and put up by a generous family, the Rebosio’s of Cassina Amata, Paderno Dugnano, in what is now the suburbs of Milano, I made my first film. It was a portrait of their 12 year old daughter, Matilde. Silent, 13 minutes, it has recently been restored by the Eye Film Institute of the Netherlands (their archival organization) and I will get to see it for the first time in some decades when it is shown at the St Louis Film Festival in November. I was 19 when I made it and had no thought or idea of a career, of making a living, or any such thing, nor did I know that I would become a filmmaker.  I was young and reckless and foolish and perhaps of a little minority of my era, diving into the 60's.

Fifty years on, I've accrued a mixed reputation, as a person and as a filmmaker/artist.

In hindsight, I think I was a bit crazy, and it seems by some measures I still am. I vaguely knew I was some kind of artist, and I knew somewhat the price that would involve. Fifty years on, I've accrued a mixed reputation, as a person and as a filmmaker/artist.  That reputation wanders all over the map and for the most part was determined by people who never met me, and know very little of me.  According to some I'm chronically reported as the most unknown, under-appreciated, blah blah, filmmaker in America.  According to some I am a hot-headed homophobe, a loose-cannon, with a string of bad relationships in my wake.  According to some I am some kind of cinematic genius; others say my films are the most boring/worst ever.  Most of those with the loudest opinions know me little if at all, and those who speak well or ill of my films most likely have only seen a quarter of them, if that.


Most of this public reputation is, as usual, a tiny bit of truth and a large dollop of make-believe, all depending on whom, the ax they have to grind, and whether they know me beyond hi-bye at a festival, or whatever.  After some decades one learns that a public persona is not yours, but whatever others make up.  Something to ignore and perhaps to find amusing.  In my case it is of little consequence since I am of little consequence in that larger world -- the little hot-house one of cinema and the arts.   For many reasons -- experiential ones -- I basically withdrew from that world several decades ago.  I'd had my look at it, and frankly wanted nothing of it.  The film world, whether that of Hollywood, or of the European artsy realm, or the avant garde academic one, is a place of angry (and often very insecure) egos, bombast, corruption, vanity, and all the same things that infect, say, big business or politics.  In Hollywood it is written big, and the tabloids show you the miserable result; further down the scale it's smaller, but the psychological crap is pretty much the same.   Dog eat dog.  A mostly unpleasant world from which -- with a few exceptions -- I try to steer clear.

I hardly know anyone in the film or arts world, and those few I know are modest figures, if very serious and good in what they do.  And, most importantly to me, they are good people.  People with whom I like to share time because of who they are, not what they do -- though it certainly doesn't hurt when they make good art too.

I suppose, in terms of the film-world, I hit my peak around 1993, at the age of 50 -- I'd made a few 35mm films, one of which secured a modest theatrical release in the US, and others that were shown on European TV.  "All the Vermeers in New York" was the ice-breaker, though I'd done many features before and already had a little "reputation" in the narrow little world of avant garde "new narrative" cinema.  I was a festival regular in Berlin, Rotterdam and elsewhere.  "Vermeers" functioned that way because it was commercially shown, listed in Variety's top 50 BO accounting (though if you are not in the top 5 it means you probably didn't make a dime).

To this day if someone says they "heard of" me, and that perhaps they saw a film of mine, it was because of "Vermeers" -- which frankly isn’t very representative of my over-all work.  I think among those in the film biz it meant that I was supposed to slip into the small realm of filmmakers who manage in the USA as sort of Euro-art house directors:  Jim Jarmusch, Alan Rudolph, or Terrence Malick, or even Gus van Sant.  And certainly I could have done that, if I were a different person and a different kind of artist.  But, alas, I could never have, as those I’ve listed have done:  cranking out more or less the same/similar films (narrative, actor driven, and -- to my mind -- rather conventional, and to me, boring films), and making a nice career of it.

This article is related to: Jon Jost, Experimental Film