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Maya Deren

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Birthday: Apr 29, 1917

Birthplace: Kiev, Ukraine, Russia

Maya Deren did not launch the American film avant-garde, but more than any of her contemporaries, she galvanized, popularized, and feminized it. Famed for her 1943 masterpiece Meshes of the Afternoon, one of the most widely viewed and analyzed of all experimental films, Deren was a tireless proponent of independent movie production and distribution, constantly writing, touring, and lecturing in support of her craft. She not only distributed her own films, but also financed her projects with the aid of fees and grants, in 1946 receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship -- the first awarded for creative filmmaking, and the first ever bequeathed to a woman. While her films lack an overtly feminist consciousness, Deren was arguably the first true woman auteur in American cinema, and her work challenged not only the medium's gender stratification but also its thematic principles, probing issues of sensuality and identity clearly distinct from the efforts of her male counterparts. And although many of Deren's films and writings drifted into obscurity following her 1961 death, her reputation has been greatly rehabilitated in later years, and her aesthetics and ethics alike remain a touchstone for independent filmmakers of all persuasions -- as the pioneering avant-garde director Stan Brakhage once said, "She is the mother of us all." Deren was born Elenora Derenkowsky in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 29, 1917. Her family fled to the U.S. in 1922 following a series of anti-Semitic pogroms, and settled in Syracuse, NY; her father, a psychiatrist, and her mother, an artist, were made naturalized American citizens in 1928, at that time adopting the abbreviated surname "Deren." While attending school in Switzerland, Deren developed an interest in writing poetry, and upon returning to New York she studied journalism and political science at Syracuse University, where she also became fascinated with filmmaking. After marrying student activist Gregory Bardacke, she relocated to New York City, continuing her education at New York University and serving as the National Secretary of the Young People's Socialist League; Deren also worked as a secretary and tour manager for the anthropologist and dancer/choreographer Katherine Dunham, credited as one of the first performers to expose American audiences to traditional Caribbean music and dance. Dunham was no doubt a major influence on Deren, who would later explore and document Haitian dance and Voudoun (voodoo) rituals in her own work. After receiving her master's degree in English literature from Smith College in 1939, Deren divorced Bardacke. While in Los Angeles with a Dunham stage production, Deren met Czech filmmaker Alexander Hammid; they later married, and she changed her given name from Elenora to Maya, from the Hindu goddess of sorcery. With Hammid's assistance, in 1943 she filmed Meshes of the Afternoon, shooting with a hand-wound Bolex camera and funding the project out of her own pocket, even appearing as its enigmatic protagonist(s). Although Deren would later criticize and renounce the surrealists, the resulting 16 mm, 14-minute effort plainly evokes the experimental approaches of Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, and Luis Buñuel; an elliptical, poetic meditation on the self, hypnotically edited and relying on multiple exposure imagery to foster the illusion of myriad personas, Meshes of the Afternoon is a landmark of American cinema, a brilliant examination of form, content, and technique that conjures both film noir and gothic melodrama even as it challenges the very principles of standard narrative storytelling. Also in 1943, Deren began work on Witch's Cradle, a collaboration with Marcel Duchamp intended to articulate the magical properties of objects housed in Peggy Guggenheim's legendary Art of This Century gallery. Like many of Deren's projects, the film remained uncompleted. The following year, however, she did release her second short, At Land; again assuming the featured role -- this time por



No Score Yet Maya Deren Program Director 2011
No Score Yet Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti Director Screenwriter 1977
No Score Yet The Very Eye of Night Director 1959
No Score Yet Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti Director 1951
No Score Yet Meditation on Violence Director 1948
No Score Yet Ritual in Transfigured Time Screenwriter Actor Director 1946
No Score Yet A Study in Choreography for Camera Director 1945
No Score Yet At Land Director Screenwriter Actor 1944
No Score Yet Meshes of the Afternoon The Woman Screenwriter Director Producer 1943
No Score Yet The Witch's Cradle Director 1942


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