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Work / Publication

Conversations with Filmmakers sheds light on the prolific Jonas Mekas

Conversations with Filmmakers is the first publication documenting conversations with the groundbreaking filmmaker Jonas Mekas. Known as the “godfather of American avant-garde cinema”, this stylistic book designed by Berlin/Leipzig-based graphic design studio Bremer & Storz, has a particularly strong visual identity in homage to Jonas’ classic cinematography.

Lithuanian-born Jonas moved to Brooklyn to escape World War Two and developed a form of “film diary” where he recorded his daily observations. He became the “barometer” of the New York art scene where every week from 1958 to 1977, Jonas published a “movie journal” column in the Village Voice where he interviewed numerous international filmmakers. Conversations with Filmmakers is the first time these interviews have been compiled and published in one book, featuring original stills shot by Jonas. Additionally, the collection of texts is supplemented by letters and extracts from related scenarios and scripts from the index of interviewees.

Conversations with Filmmakers designers Bremer & Storz was founded by Pascal Storz and Fabian Bremer with a strong focus on visual identity, editorial and book design. Established as a distinctly collaborative practice, the studio’s affiliation with publishers Spector Bureau means they frequently work alongside a collective of artists, designers and publishers. “We understand our role as designers as one that spans across the fields of author, translator, researcher, engineer, craftsman and communicator”, explain Pascal and Fabian to It’s Nice That. The designers gained access to “manuscripts of the conversations and a selection of film stills, photographs and printed matter from Jonas’ personal archive”. The interviews are laid out chronologically along with their date of publication and source. After trialling different formats and layouts, the design pair evaluate how “it became pretty clear to us that we wanted to reference the layout of American newspapers from the 60s and 70s through the graphic design and typography.

Conversations with Filmmakers is also in-keeping with the first book Bremer & Storz designed for Jonas, Scrapbook of the Sixties. The books act as siblings — “recognisable as belonging to the same family while also being different enough and original at the same time”. Both books use strong typographic headlines, reminiscent of letterpress wood type echoing the traditional methods of typesetting. The strict, grid-based graphic design is enhanced by the thick lines running down the columns separating the justified text; creating a uniform, structural hierarchy within the publication’s design.

“Another central idea to the book’s design involves treating text and image as source material and making that visible through the design of the book”, explain Fabian and Pascal. Although the grid system looks simple, its purposely minimal design provides a clear structure for reading the lengthy interviews. The body copy is broken up by bold and assertive subheadings as well as striking frame-by-frame scans of the original film that render a sense of movement to the rigid hierarchy of the grid. “The conversations are printed in black and white on newsprint paper in narrow columns” in accordance with the design concept, “while the images are printed in colour on glossy paper” to offer the best quality print to the high contrast images.

The design repertoire of Bremer & Storz is highly sophisticated yet diverse in communicating the individual spirit of the subject. “We want to challenge ourselves to find intelligent and hopefully new, unexpected and surprising ways to translate great artistic material into the medium of the book”, say the graphic designers. Conversations with Filmmakers is wholly original with its exclusive interview material from Jonas and fitting design that adds a refreshing edge to the over-saturated book design industry. Continually expanding the conventions of editorial design, this publication captures the monumental value of Jonas’ contribution to avant-garde cinema in a historically sympathetic yet contemporary design.

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