MAYA DEREN – Her Life and Work
Born in 1917 as Eleonora Derenkowska in the land of what is known today as Ukraine, she was to become a central figure of the American avant-garde for her ground-breaking work in experimental film. At the arrival of her family in New York in
Extremely passionate about dance, she discovered the medium of film to create a unique experience through surreal, conceptual, black-and-white short films. A perfect mix of dance, Haitian Voodo (learned during her trips to Haiti between 1947 and 1955) and subjective psychology (her father was a psychiatrist).
What I do in my films, I think is very distinctive. They are the films of a woman and I think their characteristic time quality is the time quality of a woman… A woman has strength to wait. Because she had to wait. She waits nine months for the concept of a child. Time is built into her body in the sense of becomingness.Maya Deren
Maya didn’t fit into neat categories. She was
In 1947 Maya was the first filmmaker to receive a Guggenheim price for her creative work in film. She was an incredible figure in all aspects, an unstoppable creative force whose camera work is still considered innovative. Her work gained recognition in a male-dominated industry at a time when there was little room for women in the film industry.
Innovating the Industry
Maya Deren is mainly known for her inventive editing and her manipulation of time and space, using techniques like multiple exposures, jump cutting, superimposition, slow-motion amongst others. Additionally, she was a thoughtful filmmaker who wrote numerous essays on her film practice and cinema as an art form. Deren was particularly interested in amateurism, the body and the manipulation of reality.
Amateurism and the Body
Amateurism was very popular in America at the time. It was valued as a practice of invention, industriousness and a love for the craft. For Deren amateurism meant freedom to pursue any theme or stylistic experiment, without focusing too much on commercialism. Indeed she believed that a really original and creative work relied on being able to afford failure.
Deren interest in the body extended to herself as a filmmaker. She was convinced that the best equipment for a filmmaker was her/his own body, because the body is the most flexible and mobile instrument available.
Maya was not interested in abstraction. Instead, she saw her everyday world as the foundation to manipulate. She was fascinated by the possibilities of “accidents” that happened during shoots; the uncontrolled and spontaneous elements of reality itself (irregularity of the waves, texture of stones and sand). Despite this fascination for reality, she believed that all these elements should be manipulated to create a reality that could only exist on screen.
A great woman and a modern myth to be witnessed and appreciate today. Don’t miss out our special retrospective on Maya Deren on Friday 8 March at 16.00.
During Cinedans FEST we are also hosting an exclusive online screening of the documentary In the Mirror of Maya Deren. Watch it here.