Maya Deren 1908–1961
Russian-born American filmmaker, dancer, film critic, and actress.
An important figure in American avant-garde filmmaking of the forties, Deren created the trend and the marketplace for avant-garde films. She wrote extensively about her own work and film theory in general. In 1959 she wrote an article defining what she considered truly independent films: films made by one person. In this article, she praises amateur film-makers and what they stand for: "[That] very word—from the Latin 'amateur'—'lover' means one who does something for the love of the thing rather than for economic reasons or necessity." Her profound respect for independent films inspired her own work and she became involved in promoting the work of others. To this end, she established the Creative Film Foundation to give financial aid to filmmakers.
Deren's early films were surrealistic and fantastic, constructed to portray a dream rather than tell a story. Abandoning this somewhat narrative style, unstructured as it was, in favor of purely physical expression in free form, she made films such as Meditation on Violence. Her work is difficult and obscure and the reaction to her films is sometimes negative.
Deren has been called the "Mother of Underground Film." She was a leader in certain areas; for instance, she legitimatized the use of 16mm film as an artistic medium. In 1946 she rented the Provincetown Playhouse to show her films. It was the first time that a public theater screened privately produced 16mm films. A large crowd gathered for the showing, prompting police to investigate. When asked if the crowd was planning a demonstration, one participant answered, "No, it's a revolution in filmmaking."