Maya Deren was the mother of American avant-garde cinema. Her films were surreal and intense, full of symbolism and incredibly strange ideas. Check out The Very Eye of Night, Meshes of the Afternoon and At Land.
She was a Ukrainian Jew who fled to the US with her family to escape the ethnic-cleansing pogrom. Her first husband was a socialist activist who she married at 18. Her second husband, famous European photographer Alexander Hammid, was co-collaborator on Meshes and her third husband, Japanese-American composer Teiji Ito, made some amazing soundtracks to these films. John Cage and Marcel Duchamp were involved in her films as well.
She was also a dancer, choreographer, writer, photographer and nude model. She spoke several languages and was personal secretary for Katherine Dunham. She was also involved in ethnography and went to Haiti to film voodoo rituals for her documentary Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, which is an important source on the subject. In 1953 the new Elektra label released a 10" of some of her Haitian field recordings. She died at the age of 44 from a brain aneurysm.