In the Mirror of Maya Deren. Courtesy of 5th Avenue Cinema

Find it at 5th: In the Mirror of Maya Deren

The life and work of an experimental filmmaker

This weekend at Portland State’s 5th Avenue Cinema—Portland’s only student-run theater—PSU students and the general public can catch a screening of In the Mirror of Maya Deren, a documentary about the life and work of avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren.


The 2001 film, written and directed by Austrian filmmaker Martina Kudláček, is based on the biography The Legend of Maya Deren. The documentary tells Deren’s story by using footage from Deren’s experimental films, such as Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), At Land (1944) and Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946). Additionally, the film includes interviews with contemporaries of Deren, such as filmmaker Stan Brakhage and author and curator Amos Vogel. The film’s score was written by avant-garde composer John Zorn.


According to the 5th Avenue Cinema website, “In The Mirror of Maya Deren offers an intimate account of the influential and enigmatic artist told through her own words and those personally and professionally close with her. The film includes Deren speaking very thoughtfully and passionately about her own films and her devotion to film as a medium. In the Mirror of Maya Deren exemplifies why Deren to this day still acts as an inspirational figure for individuals, especially women, in all areas of filmmaking.”


Cadie Godula, one of 5th Avenue Cinema’s film curators, was the one who decided to add In the Mirror of Maya Deren to the theater’s program. Godula found an interest in Deren’s career and hoped that screening the film would expose her work to a broader audience. “A lot of people regard [Deren] as the mother of experimental cinema,” she said. “She was and is a big icon.”


Deren was originally a writer, writing poetry, journalism and essays, before moving into film, where she would become known as the “Mother of Underground Film.” She became a well-known independent filmmaker in New York, exhibiting her films in the Greenwich Village Provincetown Playhouse and supporting other experimental directors through an organization she established called the Creative Film Foundation.


Deren’s status as a female filmmaker working in the film industry in the 1940s—as an unabashedly independent, experimental director—served as inspiration for Godula. “I’m a filmmaker, so I got introduced to her in one of my classes,” she said. “As a woman in film… it’s hard to find a lot of women who are also doing that work in the field.”


The film represents a break from 5th Avenue’s typical programming, both in its subject matter and its genre. “As far as our programming goes, we try to make a very whole program,” Godula said. “With a variety of the works that we do. We do a lot of arthouse, indie stuff because we’re that kind of theater. But we don’t do a whole lot of experimental films, and we don’t do a whole lot of documentary-type stuff.”


Godula hoped that screening more avant-garde films will bring in new audience members. “We’re trying to get more film students, specifically, to come to the theater,” she said.


Prior to showing the documentary on Saturday and Sunday, Godula mentioned there will also be a pre-show screening of Deren’s short experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon. Meshes, which stars Deren and her husband Alexandr Hackenshmied, is a surrealist film known for its innovative use of editing and cinematography, as well as its striking repeated motifs such as a mirror-faced Grim Reaper. In 1990, it became a part of the National Film Registry of the United States, which preserves films that represent “the range and diversity of American film heritage.” According to the National Film Preservation Board, a program of the Library of Congress, the film is “one of the classics of avant-garde cinema.”


Catch a showing of In the Mirror of Maya Deren only this weekend at 5th Avenue Cinema on Friday, Nov. 11, or Saturday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., or watch the Sunday, Nov. 13 screening at 3 p.m.