© Moira Sullivan, 1998. See also "Maya Deren's Ethnographic Representation of Ritual and Myth in Haiti", Moira Sullivan, in Maya Deren and the American Avant-Garde, Bill Nichols, editor, 2001.
Picture shot by Maya Deren in Haiti ca 1950, courtesy of Boston University Mugar Library Special Collections
Maya Deren's original footage of 20,000 feet was shot in Haiti during trip in 1947, 1949 and 1954. It is stored at Anthology Film Archives in New City and occasionally featured in their film program. (You can request that the footage be projected at a fee). Additionally, all of Deren's films are archived here including outtakes from her films and some unfinished work.The Haiku project, Medusa and parts from Witches Cradle with Marcel Duchamp).
The documentary film Divine Horsemen, the Living Gods of Haiti by Teiji and Cherel Ito is an assembled film of some of the best parts of the footage with sound.added ( Parts are read from Deren's monograph Divine Horsemen.) It should be understand however that this is the Ito's editorial work since Deren insisted that a film was both a product of the camera and editing. Therefore, the Ito collaboration is a 'fiction' of the material. Donald Cosentino refers to Deren's 'surrealistic editing', an observation which can be attributed to the Ito assemblage. The film is a good introduction to Deren's footage.
History of Anthology Film Archives Acquisition of Deren's footage
In 1972, Anthology Film Archives received from Grove Press five cartons of films in various canisters of the work of Maya Deren in Haiti owned by Barney Rossett. A rudimentary description of the contents was as follows: "The entire set of Haitian reels is markedly similar and repetitious in content with few exceptions. For the most part the action involves Haitian people involved in Voudoun ritual and dancing. This includes mystical drawings made on the ground, the oft-repeated sacrifice of chickens or cocks and small goats, accompanied by seated drummers, There are several instances of apparent religious hysteria and about 400 feet of Mardi Gras parade." (notes by Anthology Film Archives, Linda Patton, 1972)
The physical conditions of the footage were in a state of deterioration with shrinkage and darkness and fading of the tonal quality due to aging. Some of the splices were old and need of repair. Anthology Film Archives restored the prints through reprinting and correction of the original splices.
The Making of the Ito Compilation Documentary
In 1973, Cherel Winnett and Teiji Ito requested to edit Deren's footage.Teiji Ito, (Maya Derens husband at the time of her death), was sound editor who had recorded music in Haiti which was to be used in the film.Cherel Winett, film editor, who had studied film at the San Francisco Art Institute made the documentary"Blueberry Summer". According to Anthology Film Arhives curator Jonas Mekas, they were advised not to work with the the footage because of its delicacy and age which would jeopardize the only existing material on Deren's work in Haiti. In an application for funding to edit Deren's footage in 1973, Mekas supervised the intended project, coordinated by "Mr. Teiji Ito and Ms. Cherel Winnett". One result of the completed project unfortunately is that some of the original footage can not be viewed in the original sequence as it was cut out of the material.
According to the budget appropriation, there was 18,000 feet or negative and positive (re)print. Half of the footage was requested to be optically treated with sound transfer and editing..
Parts of the introduction to Divine Horsemenwere quoted including Deren's reference that the plan for a film was somewhere among her belongings and her footage was kept in "a fire-proof box in her closet". One of the most frustrating setbacks of Deren's career was her failure to release the footage and she tried countless times to have it accepted for anthropological use--and denied because she was an outsider to the field. Ironically, Divine Horsemen is considered a classic study of Haitian Voudoun.
Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, from the title of Deren's monograph, was released in 1977.
The Ito compilation which claims to contain footage 1947 to 1951 also includes material from 1954. There is some synchronization of sound to image such as birds chirping or their wings fluttering but the predominant focus is on the music of the ceremonies--in particular ceremonie caille(described below by Deren). The narrators were John Genke with Joan Pape reading a short description of the Agwe ceremony. Focus is on the different loa, or gods and goddesses in Voudoun ceremony including Legba, Ogun, Ghede, Erzulie, Damballah and Azacca and Agwe--with animation of the particular vevers.
Editorial inconsistencies with Deren's original material are the insertion of animation of the loa Damballah after the closeup of an individual under possession lasting into a minute of material from the Agwe ceremony; a long shot of a La-place (assistant) to the houngan (priest) Isnard in 1947 cracking a whip introducing the Boeuf Azacca ceremony in 1949; and footage from 1954 showing the Haitian boy Jacques doing the juba intercut with Mardi Gras material. Some use of corresponding movement is used such as Jacques and the baton twirlers and the pelvic movement of a woman possessed by Ghede with the pelvic movements of baton twirlers at Mardi-Gras. The films ends with a freeze frame of Ghede at the Mardi Gras. (all postproduction by the Ito's).
Boston University Mugar Library Special Collections, Home of the Maya Deren Collection
Marie Deren, Maya's mother, bequeathed her deceased daughter's papers , photographs and sound recordings to Boston University Mugar Library Special Collections which is the largest center for Deren researchers in the world. One interesting document to be found there is Deren's Guide to Haiti Film Catalogue, a shot description of 5400 ft of her best footage from Haiti. This inventory is the best record for understanding her footage. The film was divided into seventeen sections. The first eight reels were for the eight day ceremonie caille filmed in 1947; the next four reels were sections she refilmed of the ceremony in 1949; the last five reels were dance festivals and ceremonies, dates between 1949 and 1954.
REELS MARKED BY MAYA DEREN
CEREMONIES MARKED BY MD:
SPECIAL NOTE : CEREMONIE CAILLE
A description of the eight-day ceremony ceremonie caille in Divine Horsemen provides a background to this footage: "Sunday: Action de Grace; Monday Service for les Marassa [Divine twins] and les Morts (the collective dead]; in the evening, the coucher yam [ritual where yams are laid to sleep at night],late afternoon and evening,feasting of Legba, Loco, Ayizan, Damballah, Ayida, Erzulie and Agwe; and their escorts (these loa are considered to be on very good terms and amenable to being served together);Wednesday: Ogoun with a dance in the evening in his honor; Thursday: Azacca, or Erzulie, or perhaps one of the other loa; Thursday: Azacca, or Erzulie, or perhaps one of the other loa especially important to the hounfor; Friday: Ghede; Saturday, the Petro loa; Sunday: often a bapteme[baptism], followed by a reception; Monday: a personal loa perhaps a work loa such as Mounanchou. If possible, each loa is served on the day of the week sacred to him. The procedure is, usually,to perform the individual ceremony either in the mid-morning or in the late afternoon, while the rest of the day is devoted to the preparation of food,and in the evening, there is generally a danse de rejuissance in honor of the loa feasted that day. (Divine Horsemen, p. 212.)
MAJOR HAITIAN LOA , OR GODS AND GODDESSES
FOOTAGE AS CLASSIFIED AT ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES, NEW YORK. (Deren's marking= [MD] )
#305 outs 300 ft.
PT. I - IV Haiti # 304
PT V Haiti # 300
PT VI Haiti #300
Part VII #302