Divine Horsemen, Maya Deren, 1985
Double bill and a double helping of dances and graves.
We kick off with a classic piece of anthropological cinema and the first film to document the phenomenon known as tarantism: a socio-religious ritual from the Italian region of Puglia in which peasant women who collected tobacco leaves for a living and who were bitten by a spider — the tarantula — were subjected to an exorcism of dance and music. The repetitive rhythm of the tarantella invoked a trance state which enabled the women to free themselves, not only from the spider’s venom but also from the harsh rural working conditions.
The prestigious anthropologist Ernesto de Martino supervised the making of the film which comes at the hand of one of the most important documentary film makers of the 1970s, Gianfranco Mingozzi.
The screening in a sense invokes the film maker herself, since the documentary was released many years after her death. Following her experience and fundamental contribution to cutting-edge North American film, Deren was interested in broadening her research and creation and set about making an ethnographic film in Haiti. She travelled to the Caribbean several times during the 40s and 50s to study ritual dances, possession and voodoo practices on the island. One outcome of her travels was a book titled Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti (1954). The other, 45 reels of film which captured the rituals of the island and showed dances which had never before been documented. The film was completed in the 80s based on the notes and comments in Maya Deren’s book, and the result is a unique documentary which reveals the secrets of the dances and moving bodies of the voodoo ritual.
La Taranta (Tarantulla)
Gianfranco Mingozzi, Italia, , 1961 18'
Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti
Maya Deren, AEB, , 1985 52'