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Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, 16mm, 52min., 1985
Cary Cronenwett + Zaka Chery Claudel, For Flo, HD video, 12min., 2013
In 1947, pioneering experimental filmmaker Maya Deren embarked on a field study supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, to document Haitian dance in the throes of Voudoun ritual. Embraced by these communities, Deren was considered “the prodigal native daughter finally returned” and quickly realized that her own cinematic interventions in the religious ceremonies diluted the impact of the rite itself. “I began as an artist, one who would manipulate the elements of a reality into a work of art in the image of my creative integrity,” Deren writes. “I end by recording, as humbly and accurately as I can, the logics of a reality which had forced me to recognize its integrity, and to abandon my manipulations.”
A haunting remembrance of love lost, Cary Cronenwett’s For Flo combines personal memory with avant-garde history, including a trip to Haiti in homage to Deren. Flo McGarrell, the artist’s creative collaborator and partner, set out to adapt Kathy Acker’s Kathy Goes to Haiti, a would-be feature starring Zackary Drucker shot on location in Haiti. After principle photography for a short was completed, however, McGarrell was killed in a freak earthquake. For Flo emerges as an assemblage of reflections, collaborative moments and an immediate response to loss; an elegiac preamble to the feature, Peace of Mind, currently in post-production.
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. In 1943 she made her first film with Alexander Hammid called Meshes of the Afternoon. Through this association she changed her name to "Maya" at Hammid's suggestion-, 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) and The Very Eye of Night(1959). She also made several incomplete films including one with Marcel Duchamp entitled The Witches Cradle (1944).
Deren is the author of two books: An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film, 1946 (reprinted in The Legend of Maya Deren and Maya Deren and the American Avant-garde) and Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1953) - a book that was made after her first trip to Haiti in 1947 and which is still considered one of the most useful on Hatian Voudoun.
Maya Deren shot over 18,000 feet in Haiti from 1947-1954 on Haitian Voudoun, parts of which can be viewed in an assembled video, made after her death by her husband Teiji Ito and his new wife Cherel: Divine Horsemen:Living Gods of Haiti. The project was the first to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship for creative work in motion pictures (1947). She wrote film theory, distributed her own films, traveled across the USA and to Cuba and Canada to promote her films using the "lecture-demonstration format" to inform on film theory as well as Voudoun and the interrelationship of magic, science and religion. Deren established the "Creative Film Foundation" in the late 1950's to reward the achievements of independent filmmakers.
Originally from Oklahoma, Cary Cronenwett spent most of his adult life in San Francisco, where he was awarded the 2009 Bay Area Guardian Goldie for Local Discovery after the release of his film, Maggots and Men. His work has screened at numerous festivals including Miami International, Outfest Los Angeles, Queer Lisboa /Lisbon, Identities Vienna and Toronto Inside Out. He holds an MFA from CalArts Program for Film and Video. He’s currently based in Berlin.