Underground Film Journal

Posted In » Underground Film History

1961: New American Cinema At The Spoleto Festival

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 28, 2023

Poster for the 1961 Spoleto Festival that includes films from the New American Cinema

According to Jonas Mekas‘s diaries, on May 17, 1961 he was contacted by Jerome Hill about the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Hill had convinced the festival’s organizer, Gian Carlo Menotti, to include a section on the New American Cinema for that year’s edition to be held in June and July.

Mekas declined to participate, as he was busy editing his first feature film Guns of the Trees, but he convinced an eager David C. Stone to organize the event in his stead.

Hill, a filmmaker himself, was an unusual figure in the then burgeoning New American Cinema — he actually had money, unlike the typical, perpetually broke filmmakers in the scene. Thanks to inheriting a family fortune made from a railroad-building business, Hill was both an artist and a philanthropist. In the May 17 diary entry, Mekas claims that Hill was the “main financial support” of the Spoleto Festival, so of course Menotti would agree to Hill’s request.

Called the “Festival of Two Worlds,” the Spoleto event was founded in 1958 by Menotti, a composer, as a live performing arts festival. The 1961 event included two film programs, one of which we know was of the New American Cinema, but the other we have no info. (An American spin-off of the Spoleto festival, also founded by Menotti, still continues every year in Charleston, South Carolina.)

Mekas doesn’t write any more about the festival, but the book collection I Seem to Live, Vol. 1 does include a letter from filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos who helped Stone set up the screenings and showed his own film Serenity. The letter was most likely published in the June 29 Village Voice, which unfortunately is not archived online. In the letter, Markopoulos does not paint an overly enthusiastic portrait of the screenings. A screening of Mekas’s own Guns of the Trees included several walkouts, a countess fainting, and Markopoulos damning the film with faint praise.

Stone, who had just quit his job in publishing, was introduced to Mekas by filmmaker Louis Brigante. After Spoleto, Stone would produce Mekas’s second feature film The Brig and Adolfas Mekas‘s Hallelujah the Hills. He would go on to produce other independent films, but in the 1970s he moved to London to become both an indie film theater owner and a film distributor. The first films he distributed were by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

The “Il Nuovo Cinema Americano” section — as it was called in Italian — ran for an entire month from June 16 to July 16. A new program ran every day for the first two weeks at 5:30pm and Midnight, then the programs repeated the following two weeks. The full lineup of films is below, and includes work by Ron Rice, James Broughton, Stan Brakhage, Hilary Harris, John Cassavetes, Stan Vanderbeek, Robert Breer, and many more.

The Underground Film Journal recently acquired for its archives a collection of posters from the 1961 Spoleto Festival, with only one mentioning the “Il Nuovo Cinema Americano” screenings. A scan of that poster is below, as are scans from I Seem To Live, Vol. 1 of the film program and the letter from Markopoulos to the Village Voice.

“Festival of Two Worlds”

June 16 & July 3

The Sand Castle, dir. Jerome Hill
The Language of Faces, dir. John Korty

June 17 & July 4

Guns of the Trees, dir. Jonas Mekas
Sunday, dir. Dan Drasin

June 18 & July 5

Downfall, dir. Graeme Ferguson
Nightscapes, dir. Richard Preston
The Maze, dir. Richard Preston
The Candidates, dir. Richard Preston
Conversations in Limbo, dir. Richard Preston

June 19 & July 6

The Sin of Jesus, dir. Robert Frank
Pull My Daisy, dir. Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie
The Cry of Jazz, dir. Edward O. Bland

June 20 & July 7

Night Tide, dir. Curtis Harrington
The End of Summer, dir. Ralph Hirshorn

June 21 & July 8 (matinee)

The Flower Thief, dir. Ron Rice
Pow Wow, dir. Jerome Liebling and Allen Downs
The Pleasure Garden, dir. James Broughton

June 22 & July 9

Time of the Heathen, dir. Peter Kass
Polaris Action Pilot, dir. Hilary Harris
Highway, dir. Hilary Harris

June 23 & July 10 (matinee)

Anticipation of the Night, dir. Stan Brakhage
Daybreak & Whiteye, dir. Stan Brakhage
Recreation, dir. Robert Breer
Man and His Dog Out for Air, dir. Robert Breer
Jamestown, dir. Robert Breer
Cats, dir. Robert Breer
Inner and Outer Space, dir. Robert Breer
Blazes, dir. Robert Breer
Homage to New York, dir. Robert Breer

June 24 & July 11

Blast of Silence, dir. Allen Baron
When They Sleep, dir. Joseph Marzano
From Inner Space, dir. Joseph Marzano
Changeover, dir. Joseph Marzano

June 25 & July 12 (matinee)

Serenity, dir. Gregory J. Markopoulos
What Who How, dir. Stan VanDerBeek
Ala Mode, dir. Stan VanDerBeek
Mankinda, dir. Stan VanDerBeek
Science Friction, dir. Stan VanDerBeek

June 26 & July 13

Changing Tides, dir. Erich Kollmar
Integration Report 1, dir. Madeline Anderson

June 27 & July 14

On the Bowery, dir. Lionel Rogosin
Come Back Africa, dir. Lionel Rogosin

June 28 & July 15

The Quiet One, dir. Sidney Meyers
Journey Alone, dir. Michael and Philip Burton
In the Street, dir. Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb and James Agee

June 29 & July 16

Weddings and Babies, dir. Morris Engel
A Light for John, dir. Warren Brown

June 30 & July 10 (evening)

The Savage Eye, dir. Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers and Joseph Strick
Primary, dir. Richard Leacock, Donn Alan Pennebaker and Albert Maysles

July 1 & July 12 (evening)

Jazz on a Summer’s Day, dir. Bert Stern
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, dir. Stuart Hamish, Barbara Squire and Russ MacGregor

July 2 & July 8 (evening)

Shadows, dir. John Cassavetes
Broadway Express, dir. Michael Blackwood

Be First To Leave A Comment

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.