Divine Horsemen
The living God of Haiti

Divine Horsemen
The living God of Haiti
Maya Deren. Amateur is a Lover
Saturday 18th September, 20:30 – 16mm live screening | Serre dei Giardini Margherita, BO
From 16th September to 27th October | online on MyMovies

Divine Horsemen. The Living God of Haiti was released posthumously in 1977. Edited by Teiji Ito and his wife, it encloses – in a delicate artistic operation – 50 minutes of the four hours of material shot by Maya Deren during her stay in Haiti – the Haitian Film Footage – during her stay in Haiti, in particular those of 1947 and 1949.


Deren’s Haitian project and ambition have distant origins, rooted primitively in her sensitiveness and predisposition to discovery, in the allure of the universe of Haitian rituals and tradition, shaken since her collaboration with Katherine Dunham. Deren’s first ideas of going on such a Caribbean journey date back to 1941 and they materialized five years later, in 1946, when she meets anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead: in that period they give a strong stimulus to ethnographic research in filmmaking, certain that film is an important tool of anthropological analysis.  


In 1947, Deren made her first trip with the aim of making a film that would relate the ritualistic aspect of Western children’s games to Haitian rituals. The desire to film ‘the logic of voodoo’ led her to revise her initial desire into a much larger project which will take the aforementioned name of Haitian Film Footage, including even the pioneeristic idea to found an independent film industry on the island for 16mm productions. She will be back three other times, 21 months overall (the last trip was made at the beginning of 1955) and in 1953 she finishes the detailed anthropological book Divine Horsemen. The Living God of Haiti.


During this long period Deren’s anthropological experience, nearly inevitably, is total, matching the director’s exploratory attitude accompanied by her deep and almost obsessive desire to fully understand the dictates of that culture – not by chance, she will be the first white woman to be initiated into the voodoo religion and she will be assigned a spirit guide, Erzulie, the deity of love – without ever betraying it.


Deren marks a new anthropological filmic modality, entirely authorial, which could only be realised through her, in the name of a physical crossing, of a body which is always located  at the centre: far enough from scientific practice and close in every sense to mythological practice, as though she was a divine horse-woman herself, a (unique) passage and intimate portal between the Haitian and western worlds. She catches mainly the sances, the possession ceremonies, the holidays (the Mardi Gras): she draws from time to time a proper rhythm and energy, made out of slow motions – on the spasms of the possessed bodies – and stretched durations, newly experimenting  about film time and the motoric possibilities of her Bolex camera.


The camera, in fact, is mobile and trundles in a circle, completely submerged in the community: this very immersion, almost a worship, is one of the causes – beside the financial one – which never allowed the director to come to an end of her project, in the utmost difficulty carried by the way the footage should have been edited and showed, both ethically and morally, without betraying the spiritual logic of the Haitian community to which she now belonged, in the full awareness of both weight and responsibility of her own artistic doing.



In collaboration with Light Cone e Re:Voir.


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Maya Deren

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