Underground Film Journal

Maya Deren

Maya Deren looking out a window in Meshes of the Afternoon

Maya Deren is one of the most influential figures in American underground film history. She has directed some of the underground's most iconic films and was a major proponet of alternative storytelling techniques through her writing.

Born in 1917, Deren emigrated from the Ukraine to New York state in the U.S. in the 1920s. Then, in the 1940s, she traveled the country as the personal secretary to choreographer Katherine Dunham. These travels brought Deren to Los Angeles where she met and married cinematographer Alexander Hammid.

Together, the pair made the film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), which would gain recognition as one of the most significant avant-garde films ever made, largely due to the film's innovative "poetic" structure. Her accomplishment also inspired other local L.A. avant-garde filmmakers, like Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos and Curtis Harrington.

Shortly afterward, Deren moved back to the East Coast where she continued to make films, but she also grew increasingly aggressive in promoting her work through writing, giving lectures and organizing screenings for herself.

Deren's later work would focus on two of her passions: Choreography and the culture of Haiti. It was while working on a documentary on the Haitian religion of vodou that Deren tragically passed away in 1961 at the young age of 44. Her third husband, Teiji Ito, eventually finished the documentary as Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.

To learn more about how Maya Deren has impacted the world of avant-garde filmmaking, please visit the Underground Film Timeline.

Watch Streaming Films By Maya Deren:


The Very Eye of Night (1959)
Meditation on Violence (1948)
Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)
A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945)
At Land (1944)
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)


1958 Movie Journal: Jonas Mekas’ First Columns

The November 12, 1958 edition of The Village Voice featured the first installment of the column “Movie Journal” by Jonas Mekas. “Movie Journal” would become what the Underground Film Journal would argue was the most significant organizing tool of avant-garde cinema created by Jonas, even more so than the Film-makers’ Cooperative and the Anthology Film […]

Streaming: Meshes Of The Afternoon

In this classic avant-garde film, a young woman returns home and encounters visions of herself resulting in tragedy. Filmmaker Maya Deren ushered in the entirety of artistic cinema in America with this hugely influential short film that is hypnotic, dreamlike and astounding in its visionary aesthetics.

Experimental Film Coalition: The Monthly Screenings

This is Part Two in a series about Chicago’s Experimental Film Coalition; and covers their screening series. Formed in 1983, the Experimental Film Coalition started holding regular monthly screenings starting in 1984. The screenings brought to Chicago the work of independent, experimental filmmakers across the country, as well as screening local work.

Underground Film Revolutionaries: Maya Deren

Working on and scanning through the Underground Film Journal’s Underground Film Timeline periodically, I am continually struck and impressed by the strong efforts of a certain, key few individuals who have both set down an official historical course and have charted a definitive future for avant-garde and experimental film. Without these individuals’ efforts, perhaps there […]