With the advent of 16mm equipment came the birth of film as personal artistic expression, and Maya Deren led the revolution. The woman who was "her own avant-garde movement," had what can only be described as an eclectic set of interests.... [more]
With the advent of 16mm equipment came the birth of film as personal artistic expression, and Maya Deren led the revolution. The woman who was "her own avant-garde movement," had what can only be described as an eclectic set of interests. She immersed herself in political science, journalism, English literature, classical ballet, Taiwanese kickboxing, and Haitian religious rituals.
The epitome of Greenwich Village art house sensibility, Deren's film meditations featured such icons as Marcel Duchamp, Anais Nin, and John Cage in cameo appearances. Yet Deren realized that art film could be more than the citation of other art mediums or the manipulation of dancing shapes across the screen. She used her camera to explore questions of aesthetics from a place of inner, subjective reality. Deren's first film, "Meshes in the Afternoon," signaled nothing less that the birth of American avant-garde filmmaking. Walking feet move from carpets to seashores to grass to pavement, suggesting visual connections normally relegated to the painter's canvas.
Calling herself a "visual poet," Deren catalogued disparate images and explored their shared relationship to an emotion or symbolic meaning, the latter often left to the audience to ascertain. Her movies are haunting, lyrical, and breathtaking fusions of human and cinematic movement, where the actors dance with the camera. Though called a heretic by those who worked with her, she was the first person to receive a Guggenheim grant for filmmaking and the first woman to receive the Grand Prix Internationale in avant-garde film at the Cannes Film Festival.
Born Eleanora Derenkowsky in Kiev during the Russian Revolution, Deren spent significant chunks of her adolescence in Europe, absorbing an experimental approach to art. To support herself in New York as she explored various mediums, she worked for the groundbreaking dancer/anthropologist/choreographer Katherine Dunham, who introduced her to Voudon (or Voodoo) and African mythology.
Her short films anticipated the work of Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, and other cinematic pathfinders even as her life, colored by enigma, confusion, and an increasing -- some said dangerous -- preoccupation with Voudoun ritual, became almost mythic. In recognition of her short, unsurpassed legacy, the American Film Institute established the Maya Deren Award in 1985 to honor the contribution and significance of independent film work. [show less]