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NOTES ON AN AMERICAN FILM DIRECTOR AT WORK a film by JONAS MEKAS. 2008. USA. 64 min. Two titans of cinema talk shop on the set of The Departed.

This film screened exclusively for a week and is currently not available online.

Jonas Mekas made over 90 films and videos during his decades-spanning career, stitching together moments with friends and family, alongside scenes of everyday wonder into visual poetry. In this hidden gem from his vast oeuvre, an 82-year-old Mekas and his son Sebastian meet up with another great American artist, an old friend by the name of Martin Scorsese. Together on the set of Best Picture Winner The Departed, the two titans of cinema share spirited conversations about their shared medium, manifesting scenes of joy for cinephiles of all stripes.

 

As a poet, it’s a given Mekas’ account of how Notes on an American Film Director at Work came to be is sparse. “In 2005 I was asked by the Centre Pompidou to make a five to ten minute film about Marty,” Mekas once said. “I asked him if I could follow him for a week or two, and he said yes.” Yet, the simplicity of his words conceals his sophisticated approach to the documentary. Mekas and his son, who helped him shoot the film, focus on small details from the massive set, singling out Scorsese’s gestures and furrowed brows as though painters diligently tracing their subject.

 

 

“I originally met Martin Scorsese when he was still a film student at New York University. He used to come to my film screenings. But our real friendship began when he made his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door? My brother Adolfas, Shirley Clarke and myself, we joined Marty in a two-hour radio program to plug the opening of his film. We had a great time doing it. I still have the tape of it.” JONAS MEKAS

 

In between takes, Scorsese begins to reminisce on his experiences trekking to the Village to watch the latest by Bruce Conner, Stan Vanderbeek and Ed Emshwiller. “Seeing the Brakhage films while I was doing Goodfellas — it was, like, refreshing,” he tells Mekas. From his smile shines their shared love of cinema.

 

Jonas Mekas (1922 – 2019) was a Lithuanian-born poet who wielded the camera as his pen. In 1949, Mekas and his brother Adolfas emigrated to New York City where they settled in Williamsburg after five years of statelessness during the waning years of World War II. Once in America, Mekas would be anointed “The Godfather of American Avant-Garde Cinema” for his continued support of experimental cinema. This included co-founding Film Culture, the first journal of American film criticism; co-founding The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, an independent distribution agency for artist-filmmakers; and co-founding Anthology Film Archives, a bastion of avant-garde cinema; among other devoted efforts to motivate discussion and innovation around film. Not only did he leave an indelible print on film culture as an organizer, but his corpus — including monumental diary films like Lost, Lost, Lost (1976) and As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000) — remains a repository of simple, yet sublime challenges to the conventions of cinema.

 

Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.