Enter Through the Workshop

By Stuart Heaney

Euphoric greetings to you all!

What a fortuitous opening to the workshop programme we had yesterday at the Serpentine. After some introductions and explanations of the workshop programme in the Serpentine’s Learning Space by no.w.here‘s Head of Lab and Learning, James Holcombe, the BFI‘s Education Curator, David Edgar and myself, Stuart Heaney, editor and administrator of this website, the students all introduced themselves to the group.

It was encouraging to meet such a group of bright, creative, perceptive and friendly young people – all with plenty of enthusiasm for new experiences and challenges (in fact, I must confess the strength of talent in the room was almost tangible). All of the students are undergraduates or younger and all of them have had some experience of either video production, photography or other related visual artistic practices, moving and still, but they are all eager new initiates to working with celluloid film and to poetic diaristic forms.

After some getting to know one another we all headed out into the exhibition space, which at present is nothing short of a wondrous grotto, and were taken on a walk-through by the Serpentine’s Head Curator, Kathryn Rattee, who treated us to her considerable expertise. Here some of us spotted Jonas himself wandering around and briefly chatted amiably with him.


With a much more insightful review of the exhibition by our own Georgia Korossi, writer and curator of the BFI, forthcoming on this site I won’t go into too much detail here but, at a glance, highlights include: a new 16 monitor-screen work entitled Lavender that forces the viewer to use the footage in its parallel universes as the raw material to edit one’s own film in the mind’s eye, simply by moving the eyes around the screens in whatever order one subconsciously chooses (or doesn’t choose). That’s an idea that one of Jonas’ contemporaries, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, once referred to as “eye-ball kicks”.

The show also includes audio recordings by Jonas; his collection of 16mm Bolex cameras; blown up prints of clusters of his film frames; a video monitor showing a 1970s loft party with Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Andy Warhol, with polaroids taken at the event blown up and mounted adjacent to the screen; and not least a touchingly elegiac new film by Jonas entitled Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man, which is Jonas’ swansong to celluloid film and which shows him making some final edits to 16mm film strips using a splicer: he now makes video work only.

An excerpt from that very film was the note on which Sandra Hebron opened her In Conversation interview with Jonas, along with British film director Mike Figgis, that evening. Again, I won’t dwell on this as, segueing neatly from this appraisal, the next post will be a report on that event by our own expert writer and curator, Alex Davidson, also of the BFI.

JM walk 2

Back in the Learning Space, we closed the walk-through with the students by treating them to some introductory short films by Jonas (although not without some technical hitches with laptops and projectors – how reliable our cutting edge digital technologies can be!): including silent footage of the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the area where Jonas first lived in New York, which is now very trendy and expensive to live in but was then dilapidated and occupied by poor immigrant communities) from the very late 1940s and early 1950s (re-edited in 2002) and finally a beatific four minute film of a Hare Krishna parade from 1966 in which the film is sped up to a rapid pace, slowed down and multiple images are layered over one another (all of which was done using the Bolex camera only with no post production, except to add the asynchronous audio).


Our next appointment will be the sold out screening of Lost Lost Lost at BFI Southbank this evening (with a review by Alex Davidson to follow next week) The students and curators will all be there and we’ll be busy reporting on it for those who are not lucky enough to make it! Tomorrow we will be joining Jonas and the students at the Serpentine for an informal chat at which we hope to learn from him some suggestions on how we might work to achieve our own diaristic films.

Until then – stay tuned for further developments folks, they’re coming thick and fast!

Getting set

By Stuart Heaney

Well howdy there, all you friends and budding audiovisual diarists!

We at the Jonas Mekas Diary Film Project are getting really excited as the time draws near when Jonas himself will be with us in London to lead a workshop in diary filmmaking, providing our talented young students with guidance and sage advice gleaned from over 60 years of making handmade independent films and of being an activist, journalist and irrepressible advocate for independent film. Of course that’s not all he’s here for: his visit will coincide with the launch of major retrospectives at BFI Southbank and the Serpentine Gallery – alongside further retrospectives at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and Anthology Film Archives in New York celebrating his amazing 90th birthday – with no sign of anyone stopping him from doing what he loves anytime soon!

We’ll be busy providing you with frequent blogs, explaining the types of processes the students will be working with and reporting on the whole season as it unfolds, giving everyone the chance to be included in this fantastic once-in-a-lifetime series of events, whether or not you can be there in person. Not only will we be actively blogging about it in text form, we’ll give you the chance to experience it close-up with photos, video (including some shot on 16mm film with the same type of Bolex movie camera used by Jonas himself), audio clips and links to resources all across the web.

Check out this clip of Jonas’ film, As I Was Moving Ahead (2000), for a good example of the kind of material we’ll be working with. This clip shows how Jonas has spent his lifetime attempting to understand the chance encounters of his strange exile in America from Lithuania. The students are encouraged to explore the ideas represented here and think about their own experiences, travels and family lives.

Furthermore, we’ll be providing you with context and background with resources including an online tour of Mekas’ life, work and his most enduring achievements, plus pages introducing the lasting legacy of those achievements: the people, places and networks that enable these types of films to be seen now and by future generations. We’ll also point you in the right direction to find out more online and to further viewing and reading.

Here are some delectable dates for your diary, all you developing diarists!

Wednesday 5th December: the Serpentine Gallery’s retrospective show opens with a new work by Jonas  – we’ll be there right at the opening and we’ll tell you all about it.

Thursday 6th: Our students will meet and have a walk-through at the Serpentine Gallery where they’ll get a first-hand private experience of the show and Jonas’ work before they get the chance to see Jonas interviewed In Conversation with former London Film Festival director Sandra Hebron and British filmmaker Mike Figgis in NFT1 at BFI Southbank that same evening. That’s probably about as close to our idea of a perfect day as it gets!

Friday 7th: the BFI’s retrospective screenings of Jonas’ work, curated by Mark Webber opens with Lost Lost Lost (1976, 178 mins) and the students are encouraged to attend – we’ll blog about it and show you a clip or two. In the meantime, if you want the chance to see it, get your tickets here.

Then throughout December we’ll be blogging about the major screenings in the BFI’s retrospective of Jonas’ work.

Sat 8th: at the Serpentine Gallery, Saturday Seminar with Jonas – the students get to meet Jonas himself and hear all about his ideas and his work and to ask him for advice on how best to approach the diary videos and film work they will make on the course.

Wednesday 12th: an evening with Jonas Mekas and Friends at the Serpentine Gallery – music, poetry and surprises as Jonas holds court with some of his friends.

Friday 14th and Saturday 15th: two day-long practical workshop sessions at no.w.here with filmmaker and head of the lab and education dept at no.w.here, James Holcombe. James will take us through how the Bolex camera that Jonas used works, allowing the students to shoot, process and handle 16mm film so they can explore its textures and physical characteristics. On the second day the students will shoot and develop rolls of film that they will later use in their diary video work. These two days will be among the highlights of the workshop programme because no.w.here is the successor organisation of the London Filmmakers’ Co-Operative, which was founded in London in 1966. It was directly inspired by the Filmmakers’ Co-Operative that was founded in New York by Jonas.

Over the holiday season the students will work on their video productions. They will have access to the BFI’s digital edit facilities during that time.

12th January 2013: there will be a Jonas Mekas Study Day at BFI Southbank, including screenings and discussions with a panel of experts, led by curator Mark Webber.

26th January: the workshop culminates with screenings and discussions of students’ work in the afternoon. Then, that evening students are invited to attend the final screening in the BFI retrospective, his most recent film and tour through the twilight of Jonas’ insomnia, Sleepless Nights Stories (2011). It features Bjork, Harmony Korine, Yoko Ono and other friends. You can read a review here.

Finally your last chance to to visit the Serpentine show will be on Sunday 27th January.

WOW – what a packed programme, eh folks!

We’ll be back next week to tell you all about the opening of the Serpentine show, the launch of the workshop programme and Jonas’ In Conversation – so stay tuned and check back soon!

Welcome, friends

The Jonas Mekas Diary Film Project is a workshop programme intended as an introduction to working with the diary form as a cinema of free and poetic self-expression. It is aimed at young people with little to no experience of working with film and video and encourages the students to explore the relationship between themselves and the medium, engaging with their past and present, their friends and families and their immediate environment, putting ordinary lives into the frame, exploring the beauty and the poetry of the every day.

The workshop will take place in London, England and will be led by one of the true pioneers of the diary film, Jonas Mekas, a Lithuanian-born New Yorker who has been a tireless champion of independent cinema for over 60 years. It coincides with twin retrospectives of his work at BFI Southbank and the Serpentine Gallery.

This site is a resource that will chronicle the workshop – a diary of the diaries, as they evolve – and will form a legacy for the project, allowing all you young students around the world who are hungry for creative development, but who are unable to participate, to also get something out of the workshop. We hope it will encourage you too to go out there with a video or film camera and make something personal, honest and truthful.

The workshop is a partnership of the BFISerpentine Galleryno.w.here labUniversity of the Arts, London and Anthology Film Archives. Find out more about BFI Education here at our blog site.

This site is in development so please check back soon for updates.