A pioneer in the American avant-garde filmmaking scene, Maya Deren is often referred to as the “mother of the Underground film.” A choreographer and dancer, in the early 1920s Deren intended to write a book about dance. While accompanying Katherine Dunham on a national tour, she met Czech documentarian Alexander Hammid, who became her second husband. Deren’s first short, the surrealistic Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), became a landmark in the history of American cinema, underlining her recurring themes of dream interplaying with reality. In her next work, At Land (1944), Deren brought her focus on the manipulation of space and time to the forefront of her work, which resurfaced in Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946).
Deren lectured extensively and helped establish New York’s underground film circuit, setting up avant-garde screening venues that gave birth to independent distribution houses such as Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16. An insightful and articulate writer, she wrote The Divine Horseman: The Living God of Haiti and the seminal An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film. Deren passed in 1961. A documentary on her life and legacy, Invocation Maya Deren, was released in 1987.