The Black Maria, which will have screenings in Hoboken and Jersey City this weekend, celebrates short films and the fluidity of the art. There will be 55 winners - nine Jury's Choice, or first place; 12 Jury Citation, or second place; and 34 Director's Choice, or third place. The festival has no categories, and that is a part of its essence.
"I found it frustrating, as an Indy filmmaker, to deal with some of the film festivals around at the time," said Black Maria founder and Director John Columbus recently. "They tended to pigeonhole films. My films would be hybrid, for example experimental documentaries, so it would be hard to find a category for my films."
Columbus feels that the conditions haven't changed, and the Black Maria Festival remains one of the only stages for short independent films. The judges view the films as a whole, honoring the "filmmaker," usually the director, over the writers or actors.
Columbus grew up in West Orange and named the festival after Thomas Edison's Black Maria studio, where the first motion pictures were made. In 1981, he contacted Edison's estate with his idea for founding such a festival, and they were supportive.
"We legitimized it by using Edison's studio's name," said Columbus. "They helped us find fundraisers such as the Charles Edison Fund, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Those first years, we made due with $4-5,000, giving out more than $2,000 to the winning filmmakers."
What started out as three shows expanded to 65 shows nationwide and in Italy. Coincidentally, Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, also meant to support independent films, started in 1981 as well. However that festival categorizes movies, and consists of feature films.
"They're a marketplace; we're underground," said Columbus.
Local winners and Academy nominees.
Two films are of local interest.
Jury's Choice winner S.P.I.C. was filmed by Robert Castillo, a Jersey City resident. Castillo is a story board artist, creating the visually represented outline of a movie scene by scene.
"He decided on a shoe string that he's make a film of his life on a storyboard," said Columbus. "It's different and unexpected."
East Rutherford resident Rob Meyer won a Director's Choice award for Bergenline, a film about the vitality and energy of the street that traverses Union City and West New York, and is considered by some to be one of the most important Latino thoroughfares in the United States.
On a national scale, Hardwood, by Hubert Davis, and Ryan, by Chris Landreth, are both up for Academy Awards.