Maya Deren

"Perhaps the most important figure in the postwar development of the personal, independent film in the USA… Her first films, Meshes of the Afternoon (43) and At Land (44), strikingly individual, injected a new vitality into the independent American cinema." - Georges Sadoul (Dictionary of Film Makers, 1972)

Maya Deren

Director / Screenwriter / Cinematographer / Actress / Editor
(1917-1961) Born April 29, Kiev, Russia (now Ukraine)
Top 250 Directors

Key Production Country: USA
Key Genres: Avant-garde/Experimental, Short Film
Key Collaborators: Hella Heyman (Cinematographer), Teiji Ito (Composer), Alexander Hammid (Director/Cinematographer)

"Bringing the avant-garde film back to reality was Deren's large contribution." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)
“Leading American avant-garde director sometimes referred to as the 'mother of the underground film'… Deren turned from poetry to film when she met Czech documentarist Alexander Hammid, who in 1942 became her second husband… Deren also lectured extensively and helped establish New York's 'underground' film circuit, setting up avant-garde screening venues which gave birth to independent distribution houses such as Amos Vogel's Cinema 16.” - The Virgin International Encyclopedia of Film, 1992
"Born in Russia, Maya Deren fled to the United States with her family to avoid the pogroms against Russian Jews. She is hailed as one of the pioneers in U.S. experimental short film… Deren worked tirelessly to promote independent film; she distributed and financed her own work. In 1946 she was awarded the first Guggenheim Fellowship for filmmaking." - Lauri Loytokoski (501 Movie Directors, 2007)
"A genuinely innovative avant-garde filmmaker, Deren collaborated with her Czech cinematographer husband Alexander Hammid, on the dense, surrealistic eighteen-minute short, Meshes in the Afternoon (1943), which still retains its power to surprise and seduce to this day. Obsessed with magic, myth and symbolic movement, Deren was moving towards a sequence of increasingly abstract structures when she fell prey to a brain haemorrhage at the tragically earth age of forty-four." - Mario Reading (The Movie Companion, 2006)
"She made a series of influential symbolistic and symbolic films, which includes the study of psychological abnormality, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), made with Alexander Hammid, and, after her removal to New York, At Land (1944), the story of a girl born to the sea. She appeared herself as the central figure in both these films." - The International Encyclopedia of Film, 1972
"Maya Deren was the best-known independent, experimental filmmaker in the United States during and after World War II. She developed two types of short, subjective films: the psychodrama and the ciné-dance film. She initiated a national non-theatrical network to show her six independently made works, which have been referred to as visual lyric poems, or dream-like trance films. She also lectured and wrote extensively on film as an art form. Her films remain as provocative as ever, her contributions to cinematic art indisputable… Although Meshes remains the most widely seen film of its type, with several of its effects unsurpassed by filmmakers, Deren had been forgotten until recently. Her reputation now enjoys a well-deserved renaissance, for as Rudolf Arnheim eulogized, Deren was one of film’s 'most delicate magicians'." - Louise Heck-Rabi (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 2000)
"As a pioneer of American avant-garde cinema, Deren’s legacy is both abstract and tangible. Her innovations in filmmaking continue to fascinate aspiring experimental filmmakers. Her pioneering, uncompromising spirit enabled her to elude the institutional limitations that controlled filmmaking in 1940s American culture. Deren’s enduring quest to secure financial support for experimental filmmakers during her lifetime was finally answered with the establishment of a grant bearing her name. In 1986 the American Film Institute recognized Deren’s significant contribution to experimental filmmaking by creating the Maya Deren Award to act as an incentive and reward for the work of contemporary independent film and video makers." - Wendy Haslem (Senses of Cinema, 2002)
TSPDT Guide
Highly Recommended
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) [co-directed by Alexander Hammid]
Recommended
At Land (1944), Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)
Worth a Look
The Very Eye of Night (1958), Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1985) [original footage from 1947 to 1951; finished/edited by Cherel Ito & Teiji Ito]
Approach with Caution
A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), Meditation on Violence (1948)
Acclaimed Films / IMDB Filmography
1,000 Greatest Films
Amazon Products
Films / Books
    Meshes of the Afternoon
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