[I]t’s an odd feeling when an interviewee starts filming you. Though, it is somewhat less unusual when you consider the person behind the lens: Jonas Mekas. Now 95, the Lithuanian-born artist, poet and filmmaker, dubbed the ‘godfather of avant-garde cinema’, has been producing experimental visual diaries for over six decades. “There is nothing done with plan,” he stresses. “A diarist form has no purpose, no aim, no theme; you just collect as you go and string together. That’s what I do…” Sitting at a quiet table in London’s DoubleTree hotel he’s happily “fooling around” with his compact KeyMission 80 camera and continues to collect new material. A legendary figure of the New York art scene in the 60s and 70s, Mekas is spirited and inspiring company. This is a man who refuses to call time on creativity and uninterested in exploring the darker sides of humanity (“there is too much of it in all of the arts,” he says). Agnes B, once said he was the “keeper of memories”: from reshaping American cinema, breaking rules to inspiring Andy Warhol to make film, Jonas Mekas looks back on a life in pictures.
“There was no definite kind of moment,” he says, of when he considered himself a filmmaker. “It came unnoticeably and suddenly I was there.” His cinematic education was first sprung through reading – rather than watching. “After the second world war I ended up in a displaced persons camp in Germany for four years, before being dumped in New York. There were no film classics – I only saw secondary, commercial [and] usually bad films. Only by reading I discovered that somebody, somewhere in the 20s had made some great movies. I wanted to see them, but I could not see them until I came to New York.”