Synopsis by Mark Deming
Maya Deren was one of the pioneering figures of avant-garde cinema in America and also a noted author, poet, anthropologist, and alternative cultural figure of the 1940s and 1950s. Born Eleanora Derenkovsky in 1917, her family fled Kiev in 1922 to avoid political and economic reprisals brought on by her father's association with Leon Trotsky. Settling in Syracuse, NY, the family shortened their name to Deren, and Eleanora developed a passionate interest in dance and literature. After receiving degrees in English Literature and Journalism, Deren relocated to Los Angeles, where she worked with the pioneering African-American choreographer Katherine Dunham and wrote an essay on "Religious Possession in Dancing." After marrying director Alexander Hackenschmied (aka Alexander Hammid), Deren bought a second-hand movie camera and made Meshes of the Afternoon, an award-winning and highly influential experimental film, the first of many she would direct. After adopting the name Maya (taken from the Buddha's mother), Deren traveled to Haiti, where she began work on a film about the Voudon (or Voodoo) religion, and with the assistance of Joseph Campbell, she wrote a pioneering book on the subject called Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. In the Mirror of Maya Deren is an ambitious documentary which examines the public and personal sides of Deren's life and work, including interviews with a number of friends and contemporaries, including Katherine Dunham, Stan Brakhage, Judith Malina, Alexander Hammid, and Jonas Mekas. The film also features an original score by noted experimental jazz composer John Zorn.
artist, career, dancer, director, filmmaker, life, writer