How did Maya Deren change the filmmaking world?

Maya Deren, the mother of the avant-garde cinema and its movement, greatly influenced some of the most respected filmmakers of our time; from Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman to Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch.

Her 1941 groundbreaking film MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON demonstrates a tour de force filmmaking artistry, using no decorative photography, no spoken words, and only single drum beats. To this day it stands as the beacon of avant-garde cinema.


May 28th, Robert McKee will end the Beijing GENRE Festival (May 25 – 28) with THE MASTERPIECE Day. He will analyze Maya Deren’s MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON, and Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film CHINATOWN. Robert will also address the state of current Chinese films.

A Brief Bio of Maya Deren

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.

Maya Deren

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”, 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 THE WITCHES CRADLE (1944), with Marcel Duchamp.

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, Cuba and Canada to promote her films using the “lecture-demonstration format” to inform on film theory. Deren established the Creative Film Foundation in the late 1950’s to reward the achievements of independent filmmakers. [READ FULL BIO]

The Principle of Infinite Pains: Legendary Filmmaker Maya Deren on Cinema, Life, and Her Advice to Aspiring Filmmakers.


“There is no Avant-Garde any more. There is only Retro Garde. Filmmakers are imitating the auteurs of the past and recycling tired works of the past. I am tired of movies about movies. What we want to see is movies about life…about characters that express the nuances of life.” -ROBERT MCKEE