Maya Deren

Maya Deren became one of the most important avant-garde filmmakers of her time for her use of experimental editing techniques and her fascination with ecstatic religious dances. Deren earned an MA in English literature from Smith in 1939 before joining choreographer Katherine Dunham’s cross-country tour to edit Dunham’s master’s thesis on Haitian dance, a theme that would remain important to Deren’s career. Deren then moved to Los Angeles, where she wrote poetry and essays, but after her marriage to the motion picture photographer Sasha Hammid in 1942 she began collaborating with him on avant-garde films such as Meshes of the Afternoon in 1943. She acted in several of the films and used multiple exposures, jump cutting, and other experimental techniques to create complex films rife with symbolism. Adept at marketing, she rented a playhouse in Greenwich Village to exhibit her movies, created her own distribution company, and established the Creative Film Foundation to give cash awards to experimental filmmakers. In 1946 she used a Guggenheim Fellowship to photograph Haitian dance, shooting thousands of pictures, becoming enthralled with voodoo ritual, and writing the definitive 1953 text on voodoo, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, edited by Joseph Campbell.


Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Scene from the experimental 1943 short film, Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren, which depicts Deren looking out of a window.

Date of Birth


Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Maya Deren." (Viewed on March 7, 2021) <>.


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox