THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT: TRIBUTE TO THE RADICALS

July 3, 2019

The year 2019 is only half way over and already we have lost four enormously talented and influential film artists who have impacted the documentary form. DokuFest takes a moment from this year’s program of recent non-fiction contributions to pause and mourn their passing.

Since the beginning of this year, four avant-garde heroes have died – feminist experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer, curator, poet and artist Jonas Mekas, Yugoslav Black Wave innovator Dusan Makavejev and the grandmother of the French new wave, Agnes Varda, Mekas and Makavejev within only a days of each other.

At the time of their death, Varda and Hammer were still releasing work while continuing to shape and influence the next generation of doc makers. DokuFest honors the extraordinary life and films of these masters with a selection of their most striking films, some remastered and restored.

Though he had not made a film since 1996, Belgrade-born Dusan Makavejev remains the towering figure of socialist Yugoslav cinema. With his roots in both psychology and documentary, Makavejev confronted, head-on, communist leader Josip Broz Tito’s red pashas with his satirical Innocence Unprotected (1968). By fusing anarchic Marxist ideology to daring narrative discourse, Makavejev took his homeland’s cinema into the stratosphere with the boldly radical masterwork, WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971).

While the experimental artist and filmmaker Barbara Hammer’s corporeal presence might be gone, she has left behind an oeuvre that is staggering not only in its fecundity, but in the way her legacy as a life-long working artist lives on in hundreds of filmmakers creating work today. Since 1972, Hammer had made close to ninety film and video pieces, non-linear, metaphorical, among them Generations (2010) and Maya Deren’s Sink (2011). In the 1970s, Hammer came out at a time when it was “a political act to work and speak as a lesbian artist in the dominant art world, and to speak as an avant-garde artist to a lesbian and gay audience.” Each decade marked a new direction in her work since she never ceased to explore and delve deeply into the innermost reserves of her being to talk about sexuality, womanhood, illness, aging and mortality.

With virtually no film education, the curious, self-taught, thirty-four-year-old Agnes Varda wrote and directed her breakout Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962). For six decades, running concurrently with her fiction films was a dazzling panoply of playful and potently personal doc offerings. Her final film, a documentary, Varda by Agnes (2019), is a master class, a first-person summation of Varda at ninety, who infused art and vitality not only into her films but her photographs and highly imaginative multi-media work.

For over half a century, New Yorkers knew Lithuanian-American Jonas Mekas as the founding director of the red brick East Village Anthology Film Archives, an avant-garde salon that regularly exhibited a century of experimental cinema. But Mekas, the acknowledged godfather of American independent filmmaking also created a brilliant assortment of doc diaries, hand-held movie notebooks that are both immersive and captivating. His Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972) artfully captures Mekas return to the country from which he and brother fled during the Second World War. From one of the many of his journals, diaries, letters as well as numerous articles on film criticism, theory and technique. Jonas Mekas published he was once quoted as saying, “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.”

We hope you will join us as we honor these irreplaceable radicals, Makavejev, Mekas, Hammer and Varda, filmmakers who left a deep imprint on all the images we have seen and those we will see.  We have no reason to feel sorrow for them —only for ourselves for having lost them.