Sunday, June 18, 2023, 7:30 pm

Maya Deren: Choreographed for Camera

Deren Biographer Mark Alice Durant in person


2665 Mission Street

San Francisco

pictured above: Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) by Maya Deren

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Admission: $15/12 Cinematheque Members
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On the occasion of the publication of Maya Deren: Choreographed for Camera (2022; St. Lucy Books) San Francisco Cinematheque and Gray Area welcome Deren biographer Mark Alice Durant who will appear in person to discuss this book and present three films by Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), At Land (1944) and Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946).  

She is sealed behind glass. Her fingertips press lightly on the transparent surface as if to confirm the barrier between the interior and exterior. The window is a medium of dueling functions—reflecting and transmitting. She looks out at the world full of things and people, but is aware of herself as an image, as the camera sees her. She is appearing in a film she is making with her husband, Sasha. They call it a “home movie.” (Mark Alice Durant; from the prologue to Maya Deren: Choreographed for Camera)

Ukrainian-born Eleanora Derenkowsky—better known as Maya Deren (1917–1961)—is one of the most influential figures in American avant-garde cinema. Her Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)—with its circling semi-narrative and its groundbreaking use of creative cinematography and dreamlike associative montage—remaining to this day, infinitely new, deeply inspiring and prescient in its subtly defiant feminism and disdain for domesticity while works such as At Land (1944) and A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) are enduringly shocking in their use of creative geography and motion. Proclaimed by filmmaker Stan Brakhage as “the mother of us all,” Deren was also a fierce advocate for personal cinema, composing the visionary theoretical text An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film in 1946 and presenting underground screenings in New York City which set the model for today’s network of independent microcinemas and film festivals. With a life story saturated with mystery, self-mythology, bohemian intrigue and spiritual questing, Deren’s fascinating tale is told in Mark Alice Durant’s Maya Deren: Choreographed for Camera (2022) an engrossingly impressionistic biography of the enigmatic artist, discussing at length her passions for filmmaking and dance and her deep personal experience with the spirituality and ritual of Haitian Vodou. This special screening/reading will include author Mark Alice Durant reading excerpts from the book, with screenings in 16mm of Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), At Land (1944) and Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946). (Steve Polta)

Drawing from a treasure trove of archival materials, Durant gives a vivid account of the swath Maya Deren cut through the modernist century. Durant’s gorgeous writing captures how, in Deren’s hands, cinema is a devotion to life itself. (Laura U. Marks)

Copies of Maya Deren: Choreographed for Camera will be available for purchase at this screening and are also available in Cinematheque’s online bookstore.

Mark Alice Durant is an artist, writer and publisher living in Baltimore. He is author of Maya Deren: Choreographed for Camera, 27 Contexts: An Anecdotal History in Photography, Robert Heinecken: A Material History and co-author of Blur of the Otherworldly: Contemporary Art, Technology and the Paranormal. His essays have appeared in numerous journals such as Aperture, Art in America, Photograph Magazine, Dear Dave and many catalogs, monographs and anthologies including Rania Matar: She, Seeing Science: How Photography Reveals the Universe and Vik Muniz Seeing is Believing. He has served on the faculties of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, UCLA, the University of New Mexico, Syracuse University and the Milton Avery Graduate School for the Arts at Bard College. Currently he teaches in the Visual Arts Department at the University of Maryland. Durant is publisher/editor of Saint Lucy Books.