Maya Deren

Maya Deren: Haitian Footage, 1947-1954
Film footage, Bolex 16mm camera, tape recorder
Courtesy Anthology Film Archives, New York

Haitian Footage, 1947-1954

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Deren, is regarded as the most significant woman avant-garde filmmaker of the 20th century, made a number of study trips to Haiti. Her goal was to collect material (visual and audio) for a large-scale culturally comparative project. At the time, Deren was involved in a politically active circle of intellectuals and artists who were inspired by the anthropological works of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.

While Deren’s original intention was to create “a film in which Haitian dance, as purely a dance form, would be combined (in montage principle) with various non-Haitian elements,” that plan soon proved to be unachievable. Haitian dance is closely linked to religious rituals, and Deren summarily redefined her project:

“I had begun as an artist, as one who would manipulate the elements of a reality into a work of art in the image of my creative integrity; I end by recording, as humbly and accurately as I can, the logics of a reality which had forced me to recognize its integrity, and to abandon my manipulations.”

Deren captured six hours’ worth of film material in Haiti but would never touch it again. The footage—party destroyed by dilettantish editing by her last husband—is housed at the Anthology Film Archive (New York) and is currently being restored under the direction of Martina Kudláček.

(Quotations from: Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (London/New York: Thames and Hudson, 1953, p. 5).)