Anthology Film Archives at 50
Celebrating half a century with the most important cinema in the world
To call Anthology Film Archives simply a New York arts institution is an understatement. Anthology Film Archives is a global cinematic treasure that has been a part of the East Village aesthetic for over 50 years.
Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-American filmmaker and poet who has been called “the godfather of American avant-garde cinema,” founded Anthology with the vision of creating a collection of films that were not just necessary but ESSENTIAL. That vision paved the way for the Essential Cinema program at Anthology Film Archives, and made Anthology essential to the cinema community. Housed in an imposing, former courthouse building in the East Village, Anthology is a non-profit organization that serves as a beacon for cineastes across the world. Its collection includes the greatest achievements in avant-garde, independent, and classic cinema.
Where else could you walk in, and on any given night, buy a ticket to see Georges Melies’ Trip to the Moon, Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, Maya Deren’s Meshes in the Afternoon, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, or Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Or, in the opposite direction of the cultural sphere, you might catch horror classic Final Destination 2, Jamaa Fanaka’s Penitentiary, or Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive?
Where else are new filmmakers, independent documentarians, and avant-garde artists supported in such a revered and respectful manner?
Where else are lesser known, and presumed lost films restored and preserved?
Literally, the only place where this exists is in an old courthouse building on the corner of Second Avenue and Second Street in the East Village.
I have been going to Anthology since I was in high school in the late 1980s. Trekking down to the then burnt-out East Village in 1989 as a 17-year-old was exhilarating and dangerous. As an adult, I have had two great privileges regarding Anthology: I have worked there as a part-time manager, and most importantly, my first feature film that I wrote and directed, Chloe, A to Z, had its world premiere there in 2010. Several of my other films and documentaries have played there, as well.
Anthology Film Archives celebrated its 50th anniversary this past November, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has kept us from going to cinemas for the better part of 2020. It stands as a sad reminder of how important cinema is to us as a society. While there is no shortage of films that can be viewed online, the pandemic has left us without the fundamental bedrock of cinema going…the cinema itself.
I’ve thought a lot about the one thing I miss the most and look forward to doing once it is safe for us to emerge from our isolation. I want to go and sit in a movie theater and watch a film on the big screen. It does my heart good knowing that Anthology Film Archives will be there for us when we’re ready, as it has been for the last 50 years. May it continue to serve as the beacon of world-class cinema for decades to come.