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St. Tula
Patron Saint of Cinema

Adolfas Mekas has been credited with discovering Saint Tula. St. Tula is described as the patron saint of cinema but there is no record of her beatification or canonization in the Church. Nevertheless, there seems to be some acceptance as to the existence of this idea. Joel Schlemowitz, writes in his preface to The Sayings of St. Tula that "the true and accepted image of St. Tula is the one discovered by Adolfas Mekas in Porto Stefano, Italy."

There is also a school of thought that believes St. Tula is really a re-incarnation or invocation of Maya Deren, an experimental filmmaker who flourished in the 1940s. Indeed, Deren is part of avant-garde film's hagiographical canon. She is described as,

One of the most important artists in the history of American avant-garde film...Deren is often referred to as the archetypal independent filmmaker, one who eschewed the film industry entirely but still managed to reach an audience, even if it meant showing films on her living room wall. (A Woman for All Seasons for the Filmic Avant-garde by David J. Craig)

Upon closer examination of the facts, it seems that Adolfas Mekas did not "discover" St. Tula at all. Instead, Mekas "invented" her. St. Tula is an icon of artistic passion, adored for the inspiration she showers on the committed mad folk who pursue the enigmatic art of cinema.

People's Film Department

These are some, but not all, of the early student members of the Bard Film Department.

Karl Harr, 1971

Marc Waldor, 1973

Ellen Rotman, 1973

Cleveland Storrs, 1973

Cliff Green, 1974

Andy Galler, 1974

Kevin Lathrop, 1974

Danny Scheines, 1975

Jeff Preiss, 1975

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Adolfas Mekas

Filmmaker, Teacher

In 1960, Adolfas Mekas was a member of a group of filmmakers, led by his brother, Jonas that essentially formed the art film movement known as New American Cinema. The Mekas brothers had traveled to America from their native Lithuania during World War II. In New York, Jonas spearheaded the avant-garde movement's public relations operations while Adolfas worked in the production arena. Adolfas' 1963, 82-minute 16mm comedy, Hallelujah the Hills was dubbed a "slapstick poem" by Time Magazine and has achieved cult film status. Experimental filmmaker Ed Emshwiller was the cinematographer and the story of Jack and Leo in their pursuit of Vera is a vivacious, hysterical and truly artistic adventure.

In 1971 Adolfas joined, as a lecturer in film, the newly formed and probationary Film Department at Bard College. At that time, the college's film department was located in a converted Carriage House (euphemistically referred to as the "Red Balloon"). The department's inventory consisted of a couple of Bolex H-16 movie cameras and a dozen or so super-8mm cameras. There were a couple of projectors for each film gauge, a small screening room that comfortably sat fifteen people. There were splicers, bottles of glue and other independent filmmaking tools of the trade. Approximately a dozen or so matriculants declared filmmaking as their major. As a new and "probationary" department the specific curriculum had not been worked out in detail. In addition to the routine academic politics found in the groves of colleges like Bard, this created some problems at the pastoral college campus located on the banks of the Hudson River.

By 1974, Bard's film department had grown in popularity as well as notoriety. There was some discussion of dissolving the department since it was not clear how film studies fit into the curriculum of a liberal arts college. But Bard, traditionally known for its experimentation and progressive pedagogy and perhaps aware of the marketing potential, ultimately assimilated the department into its academic organizational chart. This did not occur, however, until after a debate on the role of filmmaking in the liberal arts curriculum. (See below).

By the time the college inaugurated a new president in 1975, Adolfas Mekas had become chairmen of a small but boisterous department that had seen nine different faculty members in three years. An incredible parade of avant-garde filmmaking talent paused at Bard during this period. These included filmmakers Ernie Gehr, Andrew Noren, Barry Gerson, Bruce Baillie and theorists P. Adams Sitney, Paul Arthur, and Ken Kelman. Under funded but overflowing, the "Red Balloon", home of the People's Film Department at Bard College, became the most dynamic spot at Bard College.

The People's Film Department at Bard College was irascible, anarchistic, and Dadaistic which are the exact words Peter Hutton, the current Director of Bard's Film and Electronic Arts Program (the spawn of the People's Film Department), used to describe Adolfas Mekas.

Adolfas Mekas retired from the Bard faculty in 2004. He was from the beginning to the end of his tenure an inspiration to young film artists. His legacy, as stated in the college's alumni magazine, is that more than "any single person [he] was responsible for shaping the study of film at Bard."

Offcial Bard College Biography: Studied at Johann Gutenberg University, Germany; New York Television Workshop; Drama School in Kassel, Germany. Five years as an actor and stage director in Germany. Author of six books. Cofounder and editor, Film Culture magazine. Writer and director of films (narrative and documentary), including Hallelujah the Hills, The Brig, The Double-Barreled Detective Story, Windflowers, Campañeras and Compañeros, Going Home, Zamzok. Films shown at many international film festivals, including Cannes, Venice, New York, London, Berlin, Montreal, Buenos Aires, Perth, Moscow. Director, Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts (1983–89). (1971–2004 ).

Selected Filmography

Adolfas Mekas's Hallelujah the Hills (1963) absorbs cinematic history into a modernist framework, skewing the narrative by resurrecting visual and aural strategies as old as cinema itself: iris shots, speeded-up movements, real location shooting, novice actors, and a use of music that recalls the silent film--not merely commenting on the action, but working with the visuals to create the film's mood. (Cinema of the '60s: A Brief Survey by Gary Morris)

Bard College Film Department- Early Years

From 1971 until 1974, the new Bard College Film Department was on "probationary" status. Unsure exactly how to fund a film program there were both administrative and academic resistances to the formalization of the department. There were also struggles within the department that focused on the direction the department would take as an academic entity.

Robert Avrech (1971)
Bard College Film Department
One of the film department's first students, screenwriter Avrech does not have fond memories of the college. He wrote to a correspondent that, "I went there [to Bard] and it is easily one of the most PC places on earth for the most spoiled brats on earth. Stay away at all costs. I still have nightmares that I'm back on campus."
While mainstream film schools such as the departments found at the University of Southern California (their film department was founded in 1929) and at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) had been around for quite sometime, few colleges specialized in experimental film. A quick survey of college film departments in the early 1970s would reveal schools that focused on Hollywood-style narrative productions and schools that focused on documentary films. The viewing of the films by Stan Brakhage, Bruce Baillie, Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith still occurred more frequently in off-campus locations. When these underground filmmakers sought a more secure financial base for the practice of their art form, more and more colleges became venues for the exhibition if not the formal study of avant-garde film art.

Within the Bard Film Department there was tension between the proponents of experimental narrative filmmaking and the non-narrative enthusiasts. Adolfas, with his background rooted in the non-commercial experimental narrative tradition, emerged as the leader of this group. On the other side were the non-narrative practitioners who coalesced around Ernie Gehr when he began teaching film at Bard in 1973. By the Spring of 1973 the department's faculty was dominated by non-narrative filmmakers such as Ernie Gehr, Andrew Noren and Barry Gerson. Adolfas was the lone proponent of the narrative form.

The dynamics of this aesthetic debate within the department added to the intensity of the debate in the larger school environment. It was clear to the activists inside and outside the film department that Adolfas was the best choice to represent the department to the administration. Despite Adolfas' problematic relationships with many of the more established members of the Bard College faculty, he did have the support of some influential faculty members, notably the poet Robert Kelly, who had been teaching at Bard since 1961. He also had the support of Elie Yarden, chairman of the Music Department and the faculty's most accomplished political gadfly.

Jeff Scher (1974)
Bard College Film Department
A protégé of Adolfas Mekas, Jeff Scher has made a variety of experimental films. "Romancing the Rotoscope, Jeff Scher is top of the world, mom." Adolfas Mekas

Adolfas persevered because he could tolerate and even embrace different aesthetics. His formula for filmmaking was simple: passion will produce worthwhile films. Adolfas' passion motivated a number of people to experiment with the narrative form. Notably filmmakers Jeff Scher and Andy Galler were inspired by Adolfas as they pursued a degree in filmmaking.

In 1974 the department achieved some semblance of balance. Filmmaker/historian Paul Arthur joined the faculty as a film history lecturer. He followed in the footsteps of Ken Kelman and P. Adams Sitney, experimental film scholars, all of them. Warren Sonbert, a film poet and maker of the elegant Carriage Trade who had non-narrative inclinations joined the faculty. So did Steve Gebhardt who was one of the producers of the 1972 documentary Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones.

Niles Jaeger (1974)
Bard College Film Department
An early film department student leader. He, as much as anyone, deserves credit for the emergence of the "People's Film Department." He helped found Cinema-Matrix and the official publication of the Bard Film Department.
There is no doubt that Bard's probationary film department was popular. Its limited resources were already taxed as the list of film majors grew considerably over the next several years. Adolfas did his best to argue the case for a film department at the college, both to the administration and to his fellow faculty colleagues. As for student advocacy, many of the early film department majors spent a significant amount of time pleading the case for a fully authorized department. Chief among these student advocates was Niles Jaeger. A student of both non-narrative experimental filmmaking and political science, Niles organized students and faculty in support of the department. He as much as anyone can be credited with the emergence of the People's Film Department. (On the Internet Movie Database's "mini-biography" of Adolfas there is an error: The biography claims that "In 1971 Adolfas founded the Peoples' Film Department at Bard College." The Bard College Film Department did begin in 1971, but Adolfas did not found the department. That distinction and honor goes to the department's first film teacher, Jon Rubin. The moniker "People's Film Department" may have been coined by the Lithuanian-born filmmaker, but it wasn't in use until 1973 at the earliest.)

Margaret Murphy (1974)
Bard College Film Department
Murphy was another student leader intimately involved with the early history of the department. Her struggles with non-narrative filmmaking were well-known and sympathized with in the Carriage House.
By 1975 the department had achieved full academic departmental status. Adolfas was appointed chairman of the department and Paul Arthur assumed the position of film history teacher. Bruce Baillie joined the film faculty that year and his influence was immediately felt as he implemented a unique film making curriculum. Baillie's teaching methodology might be called non-narrative. In place of formal classes, Baillie led practical nature adventures. The filmmaker didn't study in a classroom or auditorium; the filmmaker made films. The students influenced by Baillie were often at odds with the students who followed Adolfas. During this time, Paul Arthur, more often than not, functioned as the department's mediator between the two groups. In retrospect Adolfas, with the assistance of Paul Arthur steered the department ably in those early years. Adolfas' passion and love of the filmmaking art and his active interest in his students, made the early years of the Bard College Film Department a very dynamic and exciting place to study.

Filmmaking at Bard College Today

Adolfas Mekas retired from the Bard College faculty in 2004. When he left, the department no longer resided in the Carriage House with its cramped but collectivist-enhancing environment. By way of the Louis B. Mayer Center for Film Studies located in Preston Hall, the Film and Electronics Arts Program, which employs eight faculty members has moved to the renovated Milton and Sally Avery Center for the Arts. According to the college's Summer 2004 alumni magazine, the renovated Avery Center has a 110-seat theater with 16- and 35-millimeter and video projection equipment. There is also an "integrative arts-multimedia presentation space that can seat up to 100. " The Center includes "two 25-seat screening/seminar rooms; a video installation gallery; printing, processing, multimedia video, and sound labs; shooting and animation studios; 20 editing suites; eight faculty offices; a library, a sky lighted public area; storage space; and a loading dock."

Here is a list of the courses the Bard College Film & Electronics Program is currently offering.

Adolfas Mekas, Auctioneer
People's Film Department Auction
Bard College, 1975


Adolfas Mekas- 2005 Cosmic Player Plate
Published: February 1, 2005
Updated: June 1, 2011