Biographical information for Maya Deren
Date of birth: April 29, 1917, Kiev, Ukraine
Date of death: October 13,1961 New York
Cause of death: cerebral hemmorhage. NOTE: there is a great deal of unfounded speculation about Deren's death which is in part generated as a result of the fact that Deren was a practitioner of Haitian Voudoun. The late Stan Brakhage promotes this view in Film at Wit's End , a generally patronizing and not totally reliable account of Deren's work- as well as in interviews in both documentary films made about Deren to date ( by JoAnn Kaplan, and Martina Kudlacek). Voudoun is generally discredited as a major world religion - a practice based on racism - which Deren worked to correct in scholarship and lectures.
Deren's use of medically prescribed amphetamines most probably was the most significant factor attributed to her early death. She was beset by grief that her husband Teiji had been drafted and was majorly inconvenienced by a persistant bad economy during her brief career as an artist, ethnographer and producer of independent films.
Maya Deren came to America in 1922 as Eleanora Derenkowsky. Together with her father, a psychiatrist --and her mother, an artist, she fled the pogroms against Russian Jews in Kiev. She studied journalism and political science in at Syracuse University in New York, finishing her B.A up at NYU in June 1936, and afterwards received her Master's degree in English literature from Smith in 1939.
In 1943 she made her first film with Alexander Hammid called "Meshes of the Afternoon "(1943). Through this association she changed her name to "Maya" at Hammid's suggestion--"Maya", a Buddhist term meaning 'illusion'. She made six short films: "Meshes of the Afternoon" (1943), " At Land" (1944), "A Study for Choreography for Camera" (1945),"Ritual in Transfigured Time"(1945-1946), "Meditation on Violence" (1947), "The Very Eye of Night"(1959). She also made several incomplete films including one with Marcel Duchamp entitled
"The Witches Cradle" ( 1944).
Deren is the author of two books: "An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film", 1946 (reprinted in The Legend Of Maya Deren, vol 1, part 2) and Maya Deren and the American Avant-garde) and " Divine Horsemen : The Living Gods of Haiti " (1953) - a book that was made after her first trip to Haiti in 1947 and which is still considered one of the most useful on Haitian Voudoun. (Creole form adopted by Deren.)
Deren wrote numerous articles on film and on Haiti .
See "Bibliography of Maya Deren's Articles and Monographs compiled by Moira Sullivan"
Maya Deren shot over 18,000 feet in Haiti from 1947-1954 on Haitian Voudoun,
parts of which can be viewed in an assembled video made after her death by
her husband Teiji Ito and his new wife Cherel: Divine Horsemen:Living Gods of Haiti.
Maya Deren was the first filmmaker to receive a Guggenheim for creative work in motion pictures (1947). She wrote film theory, distributed her own films, traveled across the USA and to Cuba and Canada to promote her films using the "lecture-demonstration format" to inform on film theory as well as Voudoun and the interrelationship of magic, science and religion. Deren etablished the "Creative Film Foundation" in the late 1950's to reward the achievements of independent filmmakers.
Gregory Bardacke (divorced).
Alexander Hammid (divorced).
Teiji Ito (married to at time of death).
Invocation: Maya Deren, Jo Ann Kaplan, narrator, Helen Mirren (1987).
In the Mirror of Maya Deren, Martina Kudlacek (2001).
Biography writer©Moira Sullivan