Jonas Mekas scrambling to convert 70,000 rare indie flicks into digital at Anthology Film Archives
BY SIMONE WEICHSELBAUM
NY DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
An independent East Village cinema shows rare flicks that are blissfully stuck in the past – and in dire need of preservation for the future.
Jonas Mekas, the 85-year-old godfather of independent film who worked alongside Salvador Dali directing films, has assembled one of the largest collections of indie movies on the planet at his Anthology Film Archives.
But now his stock of 70,000 titles, including one-of-a-kind flims and rare copies of the first moving pictures, needs to go digital, and fans of the archives are scrambling to ensure a chunk of history won’t be lost.
“For me, it’s a perfect example of why I’ve lived in the East Village for most of the last 30 years,” said techno-artist Moby. “The first time I went to the anthology archives was to see a surrealist film fest in the mid-’80’s, and I sort of fell in love with the uncomfortable seats and the people yelling at each other in between films.”
Mekas, a Lithuanian Jew who survived the Holocaust, needs $200,000 to buy a digital transfer machine and pay an archivist to run it inside the archives at Second Ave. and E. Second St.
His goal is to put his entire film collection on the Internet, so the world is just a click away from watching 19th-century moving pictures created by Thomas Edison or Andy Warhol‘s experimental flick “Chelsea Girls.”
“Films fade, crumble and stick very fast,” Mekas said. “Film has limited life. Finally, we have technology that can produce copies like the original.”
Moby, Sonic Youth and other stars will rock out Wednesday at the Hiro Ballroom to support Mekas’ dream of taking his archives into the digital age.
“Jonas Mekas is a grand master of American cinema, and we are all luckier for it,” said Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, explaining why his band will play for free.
Musicians like Sonic Youth borrow films from the archives and play them during performances.
The concert is also meant to introduce Mekas, who counts Al Pacino as a pal, to a new generation of filmmakers who’d rather have their work shown at the Tribeca Film Festival than on one of the archives’ two screens.
Lola Schnabel, the 28-year-old daughter of wealthy New York painter Julian Schnabel, is helping Mekas plan the show to expose young artists to the Anthology Film Archives, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
“All these films are sitting in boxes. They need to be saved. They can rot or collect mildew,” Lola Schnabel said.
Mekas, who has no plans to retire, said he will fight for film until his final days. The passion, he said, stems from his struggle to stay alive as a slave laborer in Elmshorn, Germany, during the 1940s. A United Nations worker told him afterward to go to New York – and he never left.
“After the war, I was disappointed with humanity,” Mekas said. “New York helped me put myself together. New York is my home. I am here. Rooted in the present.”
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