Jonas Mekas, known as the godfather of American avant-garde film, dies at 96

Cindy Sherman, Jonas Mekas
Lithuanian-born director Jonas Mekas attends the Whitney Museum Gala in New York on Nov. 19, 2014.
(Charles Sykes / Invision/Associated Press)

Jonas Mekas the Lithuanian-born director, critic, patron and poet widely regarded as the godfather of modern American avant-garde film and as an indispensable documenter of his adopted New York City, has died. He was 96.

Mekas, who survived a Nazi labor camp and years as a refugee, died Wednesday morning at his home, said the Anthology Film Archives. Mekas was artistic director of the New York-based center for film preservation, which is also a leading avant-garde movie theater.

Mekas was at the center of a historic era for the avant-garde and befriended celebrities like Jacqueline Kennedy, John Lennon and Andy Warhol. He published poetry and memoirs, made hundreds of films and videos and helped open the Anthology Film Archives, where a young Martin Scorsese was among the attendees.

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