(April 29, 1917
– October 13, 1961
, New York City
), born Eleanora Derenkowsky
, was an American avant-garde filmmaker
theorist of the 1940s and 1950s. Deren was also a choreographer, dancer, poet, writer and photographer.
Deren wrote articles and books, made avant-garde films, conducted "lecture study demonstrations", received a Guggenheim fellowship (1947) for creative work in motion pictures, and created a scholarship for experimental filmmakers, the Creative Film Foundation. These efforts established her as an important voice in postwar avant-garde film.
In the early 1940s, Deren used some of the inheritance from her father to purchase a used 16 mm Bolex camera. She used this camera to make her first and best-known film, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), in Los Angeles in collaboration with Hammid. Meshes of the Afternoon is recognized as a seminal American avant-garde film. Originally a silent film with no dialogue, music for the film was composed by Deren's third husband Teiji Itō in 1952.
In 1943, she adopted the name Maya Deren. Maya is the name of the mother of the historical Buddha as well as the dharmic concept of the illusory nature of reality. In Greek myth, Maia is the mother of Hermes and a goddess of mountains and fields. Also in 1943, Deren began making a film with Marcel Duchamp, The Witches' Cradle, which was never completed.
In 1944, back in New York City, her social circle included Duchamp, André Breton, John Cage, and Anaïs Nin.
Deren's second film was At Land, which she made in 1944. She made A Study in Choreography for the Camera in 1945. Ritual in Transfigured Time was made in 1946, which explored the fear of rejection and the freedom of expression in abandoning ritual.
In 1947, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for "Creative Work in the Field of Motion Pictures", and won the Grand Prix Internationale for 16mm experimental film at the Cannes Film Festival for Meshes of the Afternoon.
Deren's Meditation on Violence was made in 1948. Chao-Li Chi's performance obscures the distinction between violence and beauty. Halfway through the film, the sequence is rewound, producing a film loop.
In 1958, Deren collaborated with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School and Antony Tudor to create The Very Eye of Night.
Deren distributed her own films and promoted them through lectures and screenings in the United States, Canada, and Cuba. She lectured on film theory and Vodoun. She wrote, directed, edited, and performed in her own films.