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Marseille and Cassis enjoyed a week of ‘Mekian’ spirit

Lithuanian Culture Institute

Last weekend, the southern French cities of Marseille and Cassis waved goodbye to the week of events dedicated to the centenary of Jonas Mekas, marked by a truly “Mekian” atmosphere, bringing together lovers of cinema, literature and music.

The lighthouse of the sea gate of the Mediterranean town of Cassis, steep cliffs and boats swinging at anchor have become an iconic image linking Jonas Mekas and the south of France, which often reoccurs in the artist’s films and which set the mood for the series of events titled From My Window. That was the view Jonas Mekas would see from his window in the 1960s and 1970s while visiting his friend filmmaker, artist and philanthropist Jerome Hill’s summer residence in Cassis, where he created and experimented with art and recorded images of everyday life, and where the Camargo Foundation is currently based.

The centennial programme in the South of France was organised by the Lithuanian cultural attaché in France and the Lithuanian Culture Institute, together with the Marseille art fair Art-o-rama, the FIDMarseille film festival, the Videodrome 2 cinema hall, the Marseille International Poetry Centre and the Camargo Foundation.

Asta Visminaitė, project manager at the Lithuanian Culture Institute, who coordinates the international programme celebrating the centenary of Jonas Mekas, noted that even though these organisations specialise in different fields, there was a feeling that the partners were implementing the events as if guided by the spirit of Jonas Mekas: there was a friendly atmosphere, mutual support, complementation and joy.

On 12-18 September, a workshop on the translation of Jonas Mekas’ poetry into French was held at the Marseille International Poetry Centre, following which the public was invited to readings of the translated poems in Marseille and at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis.

According to Rūta Nanartavičiūtė, head of Projects and Programmes at the Lithuanian Culture Institute, for many, even the translators themselves, this was the first acquaintance with Jonas Mekas’ poetry and the first opportunity to hear it in French. “The especially friendly and creative atmosphere that was palpable in the group of professional translators was undoubtedly felt by the audience as well. The work started by the translators will continue and we hope that in 2024 when Lithuanian culture will be given the official focus in France, a complete collection of translations of Jonas Mekas’ poetry will see the light of day,” said Nanartavičiūtė.

Taking part in the workshop were writer, poet, translator, screenwriter and film critic Stéphane Bouquet, poet and translator Jean-Baptiste Cabaud, poets and translators Roxana Hashemi and Anne Portugal, translator Ainis Selena, and writer, translator and journalist Marielle Vitureau. The workshop marked the beginning of the two-year programme called Traduire Mekas (Translate Mekas), which is set to include more translation workshops.

Marielle Vitureau shared that the seminar was very intensive. Fluent in Lithuanian, she was tasked with conveying the meaning of Mekas’ texts to the participants of the seminar, help them understand how the Lithuanian language works, as well as the subtext, and look for ways to best transfer it into French. “It was a challenge to find a balance between meaning and form. For example, some Mekas’ verses are very short, even as short as one word, so we looked for translation solutions which would not sound untrue or wooden”, shared the translator. She noted that the participants of the workshop were not only creators but also experienced translators of poetry, which made the workshop truly interesting and the exchange of ideas proved fruitful in finding the best solutions.

On 14 September, the programme of films by Jonas Mekas was opened by the film Correspondence: Jonas Mekas – J.L. Guerín, about the cinematic correspondence between José Luis Guerín and Jonas Mekas, which was followed by the screening of the film Lost Lost Lost in Marseille on 15 September, presented by film historian Cécile Tourneur, who wrote a doctoral thesis on sound in Mekas’ films.

On 16 September, Tourneur also participated in the screening of Jonas Mekas’ shorts at the Videodrome 2 cinema hall. On 17 September, the programme of Jonas Mekas’ films was concluded with his iconic work As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses Of Beauty.

On 18 September, the premiere of Arturas Bumšteinas’ piece for chamber ensemble, electronics and Jonas Mekas’ voice recording titled More Music for Jonas was performed by the ensemble C Barré at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis. According to the sound artist and interdisciplinary composer Bumšteinas, the basis for his work is the voice of Jonas Mekas from his 1972 film Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania.

According to Austė Zdančiūtė, cultural attaché in France, the Camargo Foundation is a very special place, and Arturas Bumšteinas was lucky to become its first artist-in-residence from Lithuania, thus continuing the tradition of Jonas Mekas. “The programme of events celebrating the work of Jonas Mekas in the South of France concluded with this notably warm and poetic event, even inviting the audience to whistle together, where the spirit of Jonas Mekas was acutely present,” shared the cultural attaché. Among the guests, she spotted old friends of Jonas Mekas and Jerome Hill, who shared their joy at this exceptional artist being so important to Lithuania and Lithuanian artists.

The international project Jonas Mekas 100! is dedicated to the centenary year of the birth of the avant-garde filmmaker, film critic and poet Jonas Mekas in 2022. The programme, comprising over 50 various events, has been prepared by the Lithuanian Culture Institute, the Lithuanian cultural attachés and the Estate of Jonas Mekas. Film screenings, exhibitions, video installations, concerts, poetry readings, discussion and thematic residency programmes, poetry translation workshops, publishing projects and other initiatives will take place in leading cultural institutions in many countries around the world. The programme is partially funded by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania. The Jonas Mekas 100! programme is available on the website