For thirty-nine years, the Thomas Edison Black Maria Film Festival competition has been celebrating creativity and innovation in the moving-image arts. Shorts are the essence of the festival - not a sidebar to feature films. The festival passionately embraces its mission to promote and advocate for independent filmmakers. It is named after the world's first motion picture studio built by Thomas Edison, where he made his short experimental films in West Orange, NJ. Moviemaker's Magazine listed the Black Maria Film Festival as one of "25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee." Black Maria is not a conventional destination film festival, or a single city festival, or a gala driven event. For 39 consecutive years the Black Maria has been a socially-conscious, modern, fiercely independent traveling festival for shorts, reaching out to diverse audiences with provocative, timely, edgy and fresh new works by accomplished and emerging filmmakers.
Black Maria is an international juried competition of new short works in all genres, held annually. The festival launches its national tour in February, traveling throughout the year to states coast to coast and to selected universities abroad. Notable institutions hosting the Black Maria Festival Tour include the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Princeton University; The Dryden Theatre, George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY; The Roxie Theater, San Francisco; Capri Theatre, Montgomery, AL; Syracuse University, NY; Upstate Films, Rhinebeck, NY; Savannah College of Art and Design, GA; Anthology Film Archives, NY; the Hoboken Historical Museum, NJ; University of Delaware; University of the Arts, PA; University of Gloucestershire, UK; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and more.
Most programs are introduced in-person by the festival director or a participating filmmaker. Each custom-curated show includes anywhere from 8 to 12 selections from the touring collection of award-winning works.
A standout element of the Black Maria is that a filmmaker’s work is shown extensively throughout the annual tour. The tour is a long running affair, offering filmmakers the assurance that their work will be brought to broad and diverse audiences rather than being shown only once in a festival that is a single destination or single city event. Since Black Maria Film Festival selections are shorts, any given film is typically screened multiple times at multiple venues across the US and abroad.
Black Maria has a serious, abiding commitment to the short form as its centerpiece and reason for being. National media has covered the Black Maria Film Festival, including National Public Radio, and Moviemaker Magazine. The Black Maria is not chiefly a commercial "marketplace" or “industry” oriented film festival yet it is one which certain distributors value as one with a clear-eyed mission to advocate and promote the vision of independent filmmakers.
Whenever possible, the festival invites filmmakers to attend and/or host screenings at venues accessible to their home base. Given the Black Maria's extensive, multi-state tour, opportunities for filmmakers to meet and greet audiences through the support of the festival are considerable. Each year Black Maria produces a comprehensive and scholarly program booklet, which lists and describes the selected works and their awards. The booklet is available on the festival website and is distributed to each and every audience member across the nation. This documentation certifies that chosen works have succeeded in the festival’s rigorous jurying process and are indeed extraordinary works. As noted above, this documentation can assist filmmakers in grant applications, crowd funding, and/or establishing academic qualifications and often lead to additional exhibition opportunities.
Highly accomplished and now established filmmakers including Robert Rodriguez and Mira Nair, were first recognized by the Black Maria Film Festival, and have gone on to make acclaimed feature films. Rodriguez’ whimsical short "Bedhead" was first shown nationally in the Black Maria Festival. Mr. Rodriquez cites the Black Maria Film Festival in his renegade book "Rebel Without a Crew."
The Academy-Award nominated filmmaker Mira Nair was also recognized early on by the Black Maria Film Festival for her passionate short film "So Far from India." Moviemaker Magazine cited the Black Maria Film Festival in 2010 as one of the “Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” On its 20th Anniversary the Black Maria Film Festival celebrated the gifts of Academy Award-winning actress, Marcia Gay Harden, who attended the festival’s gala in her honor. Ms. Harden has subsequently joined with Black Maria at festival screenings and special programs honoring independent filmmakers.
The festival’s 25th anniversary featured an 8-program retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, in NYC. The festival’s 30th anniversary was honored in a 2-program retrospective at the prominent “Animator Film Festival” in Pozñan, Poland.
The festival’s 35th anniversary featured a 5-program retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, NY, with filmmakers in attendance. Margaret Parsons, Curator of Film, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC was honored for her support of independent, experimental film with the Black Maria’s Edison Luminary Award presented by acclaimed filmmaker Bill Morrison.
Filmmaker Bill Morrison’s work often combines rare archival material set to contemporary music. His work of over 30 titles was honored with a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (NY) in 2014-2015. Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016) won a Critics’ Choice Award for most innovative documentary and was named the best documentary of 2017 by the Boston Society of Film Critics. The Great Flood (2013) won the Smithsonian Ingenuity Award of 2014 for historical scholarship. In 2013, Decasia (2002), which was one of a number of his films featured in Black Maria festival tours, was the first film of the 21st century to be selected to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Morrison has collaborated with the some of the most celebrated composers of our time, including John Adams, Gavin Bryars, Philip Glass, Michael Gordon, Bill Frisell, Vijay Iyer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, David Lang, Steve Reich and Julia Wolfe, among many others.
Emily Hubley has been making short animated films for over thirty years and has had her work included in many Black Maria Film Festival tours. Her feature, "The Toe Tactic" premiered theatrically at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC in 2009. Recent projects include Paraffin (2017) a music video for The Ready Stance, Unitard Man (2016), a segment for Lance Bangs’ Party Legends Series produced by Starburns Industries for Viceland and Call Back the Dogs, a music video for Kate Vargas. Hubley has contributed animation to documentary and narrative films including "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe," "Blue Vinyl" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," and most recently, to Brendan Toller’s Danny Says. She also was animation writer for Roger Ross Williams’ acclaimed Life, Animated and is currently Animation Advisor & Consultant for Jacob Kornbluth’s documentary, Saving Capitalism.
Mira Nair has made many feature films including her debut feature “Salaam Bombay,” “Mississippi Masala” with Denzel Washington, and “Vanity Fair.” She has won the Golden Globe, Caméra d’Or, Golden Lion, BAFTA, and other awards since the Black Maria recognized her early short “So Far from India.”
Robert Rodriquez’s early short, “Bedhead” was first recognized by the Black Maria and he cited the festival in his book “Rebel Without a Crew.” Among his feature films are “El Mariachi,” “Spy Kids,” “Sin City,” and “Machete” among others.
Lynne Sachs makes films, installations, performances and web projects. She has received support from the Rockefeller and Jerome Foundations and the New York State Council on the Arts and residencies in both film and poetry from the MacDowell Colony. Her films have screened at the Black Maria Film Festival, New York Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, Toronto’s Images Festival and Los Angeles’ REDCAT Theatre as well as a five-film retrospective at the Buenos Aires Film Festival. The San Francisco Cinematheque recently published a monograph with four original essays in conjunction with a full retrospective of Lynne’s work. In 2014, she received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Film and Video.
Acclaimed photographer, filmmaker, writer, Eugene Richards’ recent film, “Thy Kingdom Come” with Javier Bardem, received a Jury’s Choice Award for Black Maria 2019 and premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2018. Richards has authored 17 books. His first publication, Few Comforts or Surprises (1973), which speaks of the lives of sharecroppers in the Arkansas Delta, was followed by Dorchester Days (1978), a portrait of the inner-city neighborhood where he was raised. Subsequent books include Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue (1994), a study of the impact of hardcore drugs on inner city communities; The Blue Room (2008), a study in color of abandoned houses across rural America; and War Is Personal (2010), a documentation of the consequences of the Iraq war.
“The Black Maria Film Festival is unquestionably one of our major showcases for the independent short film. The poetry of the form, its history and relevance, is underscored and celebrated by the Black Maria, and as a platform for exposing new genius and contemporary talents, this festival is second to none.” - Margaret Parsons, Curator, Film, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. - 2017
“Black Maria Film Festival called and they said that “Bedhead” is a smash! The director of the festival talked to me about it and said audiences were raving about it. He said that they go crazy when Becca summons the water hose. I told him how we shot it and he can’t believe the primitive equipment we used. He said that it has a professional feel and style to it. He loves it.” Excerpted from Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became A Hollywood Player by Robert Rodriguez
“OMG! I’m so happy!! Thank you for letting me know. To be part of the Black Maria Film Festival with MEETING MACGUFFIN means the world to me!!!!:)))))🙏🤗❤️ - Catya Plate, “Meeting MacGuffin” – 11-2018.
"This is such an iconic and important festival for independent filmmakers like myself, and being presented with the opportunity to have my film screened on the tour is one for which I am truly honored and grateful."
All the very best, Alan King Director / Producer - "A Way Back" - 12/2017.
“This is all very exciting. We are also so honored to have THE WASHING SOCIETY in your Black Maria program at the National Gallery on July 21 and of course will try to be there as well. THE WASHING SOCIETY will have its international premiere at the Punto de Vista International Festival of Documentary Film in Pamplona, Spain on March 8, so we are excited to report that we will be heading across the Atlantic for that. - With so much appreciation, Lynne (Sachs) and Lizzie (Olesker) – 12-2018.
"Thank you so much for your wonderful news. We are thrilled and honored to be a part of the Black Maria Film Festival. The Land Beneath Our Feet is co-directed by Sarita Siegel and Gregg Mitman. With sincere appreciation, Gregg - "The Land Beneath Our Feet" - 12-2016.
We are so very very happy about being selected for your beautiful festival!! I'm so excited! Thank you for this honor!! Again, thank you so very much!! Best, Emile, Emile V. Schlesser, artist | filmmaker - "Roxy" - 12-2016.
“When I first proposed the Black Maria Film Festival to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in 1980, my idea was to find and gather fresh cutting-edge independent films, mostly shorts, for the public to see - work that would not normally be seen at mainstream outlets… The Festival continues to be appreciated for its exhibition of adventuresome, whimsical, absurdist, exploratory, affecting, diverse and provocative works by both veteran and emerging filmmakers.” John Columbus, Founder and Director Emeritus, Black Maria Film Festival
Prizes and Awards:
Jury's Stellar Award for Animation
Jury's Stellar Award for Documentary
Jury's Stellar Award for Experimental
Jury's Stellar Award for Narrative
Global Insights Stellar Award
Jury's Choice Award - 1st prize
Jury's Citation Award - 2nd prize
Director's Choice Award - 3rd prize
ADA Award - Americans with Disabilities Act
The Thomas Edison Black Maria Film Festival is a juried international film festival and showcase for short works. We NEVER accept films over 60:00 in length, and give short films foremost consideration. If you have a long-form film you wish us to consider, you MUST provide a cut with a maximum running time of 60:00.
There is a separate fee for each work entered. ENTRY FEES ARE NOT WAIVED.