Seminal avant garde filmmaker and retired Bard College professor Adolfas Mekas, who co-founded Film Culture magazine with his brother and fellow filmmaker Jonas Mekas in 1955 and taught at Bard for 33 years, died this morning from an unexpected heart problem. He was 85.
The news was confirmed by Mekas’ niece, actress Oona Mekas. “He was a warm, funny, loving, great man,” Oona Mekas wrote in a message sent to members of the experimental film listserv Frameworks. “He will be missed.”
After immigrating from Lithuania with his brother in 1949, Mekas played a key role in the New American Cinema movement that congealed around the publication of Film Culture. He produced several experimental features, including the acclaimed 1963 love triangle comedy “Hallelujah the Hills,” which played at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Writing in the Village Voice at the time, critic Andrew Sarries announced that “even avowed enemies of the New American Cinema were impressed by the film’s lack of pretentions and its unexpected lyricism and zen serenity in the midst of nervous parody.” Time magazine called it “the weirdest, wooziest, wackiest screen comedy of 1963.” Later that year, the film screened at the very first edition of the New York Film Festival.
In subsequent years, Mekas produced several other features, including the equally well-received “Going Home” in 1971. That film, along with Jonas’ 1972 “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania,” follows the brothers on a trip to their hometown in Lithuania for the first time since the end of World War II.
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Mekas retired from his teaching position at Bard in 2004. In recent years, he was working with David Avallone on a a feature centered on the Italian Dominican thinker Giordano Bruno entitled “Burn Bruno Burn,” among other projects. He also appears in Jonas’ most recent film diary project, “Sleepless Nights Stories.”
He is survived by his wife Pola and his son Sean. There will be a memorial in New York City but no dates have been set yet.
A more detailed background on Mekas’ career can be found here.