Back in the late 1970s, Mekas did a showing of “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania” (1972) at Film Forum in New York.
Back in Soviet times, Americans had seen a lot more of Tibet than they ever had of any of the occupied Baltic States, so (being of Lithuanian descent and being a hard-core cinÃ©aste) I was there with bells on.
You’d have expected the audience to be made up of the usual hip New York Experimental Film crowd, but actually that night it was full of Lithuanian Americans desperate to catch a look at their Fatherland.
The film (I’m remembering back over 40 years) was not very experimental, or arty, at all. It was really much more like a home movie. And Lithuania was startlingly poor and primitive. I remember that Mekas received accommodation at his relatives’ collective farm being given a pile of straw to sleep on.
Mekas clearly had bent over backward to avoid politics. If he had not, the Soviet authorities were holding lots of relatives of his hostage, and he would certainly never be visiting Lithuania again, if he’d expressed negative opinions of the system.
The audience, however, of hot-blooded, anti-Soviet Lithuanians was not happy with Mekas’s restraint. He got no cinematic questions, but he was deluged with demands that he openly condemn Communism and the Soviet Occupation.
The poor film-maker was nonplussed. He wanted to talk film. His audience wanted to fight Communism.
I met him, and found out that he was a Lutheran from Northern Lithuania.