Maya Deren born Eleanora Derenkowsky, was an American avant-garde filmmaker and film theorist of the 1940s and 1950s. Deren was also a choreographer, dancer, poet, writer and photographer.Deren wrote articles and books, made avant-garde films, conducted “lecture study demonstrations”, received a Guggenheim fellowship (1947) for creative work in motion pictures, and created a scholarship for experimental filmmakers, the Creative Film Foundation. These efforts established her as an important voice in postwar avant-garde film.
In the early 1940s, Deren used some of the inheritance from her father to purchase a used 16 mm Bolex camera. She used this camera to make her first and best-known film, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), in Los Angeles in collaboration with Hammid. Meshes of the Afternoon is recognized as a seminal American avant-garde film. Originally a silent film with no dialogue, music for the film was composed by Deren’s third husband Teiji Ito in 1952.
In 1944, back in New York City, her social circle included Duchamp,André Breton, John Cage, and Anaïs Nin.
Deren’s second film was At Land, which she made in 1944. She made A Study in Choreography for the Camera in 1945. Ritual in Transfigured Time was made in 1946, which explored the fear of rejection and the freedom of expression in abandoning ritual.
In 1947, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for “Creative Work in the Field of Motion Pictures”, and won the Grand Prix Internationale for 16mm experimental film at the Cannes Film Festival for Meshes of the Afternoon.
Deren’s Meditation on Violence was made in 1948. Chao-Li Chi’s performance obscures the distinction between violence and beauty. Halfway through the film, the sequence is rewound, producing a film loop.
In 1958, Deren collaborated with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School and Antony Tudor to create The Very Eye of Night.
Deren distributed her own films and promoted them through lectures and screenings in the United States, Canada, and Cuba. She lectured on film theory and Vodoun. She wrote, directed, edited, and performed in her own films.
Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1985) is a black-and-white documentary film about dance and possession in Haitian vodou that was shot by experimental filmmaker Maya Deren between 1947 and 1954. In 1981, twenty years after Deren’s death, the film was completed by Deren’s third husband Teiji Ito (1935-1982) and his wife Cherel Winett Ito (1947-1999). Most of the film consists of images of dancing and bodies in motion during rituals in Rada and Petro services.