Epsilon Spires presents short films by Ukrainian-born surrealist Maya Deren

BRATTLEBORO — Four short films by Maya Deren, the Ukrainian-born artist and writer whose work is largely credited with launching the avant-garde cinema movement in America, will be shown at Epsilon Spires on the evening of Saturday, July 9. A live soundtrack will be performed by musician Rob Schwimmer on the piano, theremin, and a touch-sensitive synthesizer called the Haken Continuum.

Deren was born in Kyiv in 1917 and fled with her family five years later to escape anti-semitic violence during the formation of the Soviet Union. She earned degrees in journalism and literature before buying a Bolex camera with an inheritance she received from her father's death. Deren's first film, Meshes of the Afternoon, won the Grand Prix Internationale for 16 mm experimental film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946, and is considered to be the first American avant-garde film to contain narrative.

A favorite of director David Lynch, Meshes of the Afternoon exhibits many hallmarks of Deren's groundbreaking approach to filmmaking, which uses symbolic imagery and innovative editing techniques to create a world of dream-like surrealism that is equal parts film and poem.

“This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons,” Deren wrote in the original program notes for Meshes, adding that “it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret, and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.”

Another work in the program, Ritual in Transfigured Time, showcases Deren's interest in choreography by exploring the movement of bodies through space and time. In addition to her work in film, Deren studied with Katherine Dunham, a Black dancer and anthropologist of Caribbean culture, and Deren's films often reference elements of Vodou ritual and ecstatic dance.

“The ritualistic form treats the human being not as the source of the dramatic action, but as a somewhat depersonalized element in a dramatic whole,” Deren wrote in her pioneering 1946 essay on film theory, “An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form, and Film.” She went on to write many other pieces on creative filmmaking, as well as the book-length ethnographic study Divine Horsemen: Living Gods of Haiti, which is still considered a definitive source on religious possession in dance.

Improvisational soundtracks will be played for each of the four films in the program - Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), At Land (1944), Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946), and Witch's Cradle (1946) - by Rob Schwimmer, a veteran performer who has worked with musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel, and Gotye.

Schwimmer is considered a master of the theremin, an instrument that is controlled without being touched by the performer. He will also be playing the Haken Continuum, a synthesizer developed over three decades by Lippold Haken that uses a continuous piece of neoprene stretched over hundreds of metal bars, springs, and magnets to create a highly sensitive surface for translating touch into sound.

Doors open for the show at 8 p.m., and the performance will begin shortly after 8:30. In order to avoid disrupting the program, audience members are advised to arrive within that window of time to enjoy a refreshment, view the art exhibition in the gallery of Epsilon Spires, and choose their seats.

Tickets for the event are $20 each and can be purchased at

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