I'm not a big fan of Maya Deren as a film-maker, but this quote from her Author's Preface to Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti is very inspiring. It can also be taken as a comment on the avant-garde cinema movement she pioneered:
"At the time of my first trip to Haiti there was virtually no precedent for the filming of ceremonies; photographing them was altogether a delicate undertaking, for many reasons. When the time came, I broached the subject to a Voudoun priest whose ceremonies I had attended and who had come to know me well. I spoke to him of my desire to capture the beauty and the significance of the ceremonies, so that the rest of the world might become aware. He understood virtually nothing of cinema and I was uncertain of his reaction, since his own standing in the community could be jeopardized by such a permission. Besides, in his culture, the artist as a singular individual did not exist. Could he possibly understand and sympathize with my motivations? He hesitated but a moment. Then, offering his hand as one would a colleague or collaborator, he said: 'Each one serves in his own fashion.' "
The idea of the artist as an intermediary between nature/spirituality and his/her own community (certainly not limited to avant-garde film) fits very well with the approaches of Stan Brakhage and Sidney Peterson, among many others.