For over 40 years the Thomas Edison Film Festival (formerly known as the Black Maria Film Festival) has been advancing the unique creativity and power of the short form. The festival was founded in 1981 and was originally named for Thomas Edison’s West Orange, NJ, film studio, whose resemblance to the familiar black-box shaped police paddy wagons sparked the nickname “black maria.”
The festival’s relationship to Thomas Edison’s invention of the motion camera and the kinetoscope and his experimentation with the short film is an essential part of our mission. Shorts are the essence of the festival - not a sidebar to feature films. Thomas Edison Film Festival (TEFF) is not a conventional destination film festival, or a single city festival, or a gala driven event. It is a socially conscious, modern, fiercely independent traveling festival for shorts, reaching out to diverse audiences with provocative, timely, edgy and compelling new works by both accomplished and emerging filmmakers.
The festival passionately embraces its mission to promote and advocate for independent filmmakers through our international juried competition celebrating all genres and hybrids from filmmakers around the world. Once the annual collection has been determined by a group of pre-screeners and panel of jurors we reach out to diverse audiences with provocative, timely, edgy and fresh new works by both emerging artists and accomplished masters.
TEFF launches its annual tour in February, traveling throughout the year throughout the US coast to coast and to selected universities abroad. Notable institutions who have hosted TEFF programs both in-person and virtually 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.
Many programs are introduced in-person by the festival director and/or filmmaker(s). Each custom-curated show includes anywhere from 8 to 12 selections from the touring collection of award-winning works.
A standout element of the TEFF 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 TEFF selections are short in length, any given film is typically screened multiple times at multiple venues across the US and abroad.
When the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded across the world, TEFF responded by launching an on-line film festival to screen individual films from the collection and archive, plus custom-curated programs completely free of charge – no strings attached. Many film festivals around the world responded in kind and new models for presenting films to wide audiences have evolved. TEFF remains committed to bringing the films to the people through in-person events whenever possible, and we have also enthusiastically embraced custom-curated secure streaming events. What we have learned is that the heart of TEFF remains intact whether presenting a program to a small group of community activists or a virtual program streaming around the world in honor of Earth Day. Our opportunities for outreach have grown and will continue to grow as we move into our 4th decade.
TEFF has a serious, abiding commitment to the short form as its centerpiece and reason for being. National media has covered the TEFF, including National Public Radio, and Moviemaker Magazine. TEFF is not chiefly a commercial "marketplace" or “industry” oriented film festival, yet it is valued by distributors who support our clear-eyed mission to advocate and promote independent filmmakers.
Traditionally, the festival has invited filmmakers to attend and/or host screenings at venues accessible to their home base. Expanding on that model, we now also invite filmmakers to participate in talks about their work with audiences - often within the framework of seminars with students. Given the TEFF’s extensive annual tour, opportunities for filmmakers to meet and greet audiences through the support of the festival are considerable.
Each year we produce a comprehensive and scholarly Thomas Edison Film Festival program booklet which lists and describes the selected works and their awards. Also included are engaging essays, film stills, photos, historical perspectives, and acknowledgement of festival supporters. The booklet is available on the festival website and is distributed to each and every audience member at in-person events. The documentation in the annual booklet 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, then known as, 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 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. Our 40th anniversary in 2021, marked 4 decades of support for independent filmmakers and included launching our new name - Thomas Edison Film Festival. To commemorate our 40th we presented our first “Edison Innovation Award,” to Lynne Sachs - celebrating a filmmaker whose work advances the mission and legacy of the Thomas Edison Film Festival; has a distinguished body of work recognized within the independent film community; and pioneers new forms of filmmaking and notable screen innovations.
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 of our 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 Thomas Edison 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. In 2021 she received the “Edison Innovation Award,” from TEFF.
Acclaimed photographer, filmmaker, writer, Eugene Richards’ recent film, “Thy Kingdom Come” with Javier Bardem, received a Jury’s Choice Award from the Thomas Edison Black Maria FF 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
“They were extremely kind and great at communicating! We are so grateful and proud that the festival selected 3 shorts (Circus Movements, The Boy and the Owl, Histories of Wolves), that we made, to be a part of the selection and screenings at 2020 edition. A big thanks to Jane and to her incredible festival!” Filmes do Gajo
“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
“We are honored that Black Maria Film Festival chose RETURN TO CALAIS for the 2020 Tour & even more by its Global Insight Jury Citation Award. And even more! Festival Director Jane Steuerwald is an effervescent champion, elevating every film artist in her Black Maria circle!” – Edith Goldenhar, “Return to Calais” – 3-2020.
“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
Jury's Stellar Award for Screen Dance
Global Insights Stellar Award
Jury's Choice Award - 1st prize
Jury's Citation Award - 2nd prize
Director's Choice Award - 3rd prize
ADA Award for a captioned film - Americans with Disabilities Act
The Thomas Edison Film Festival is a juried international film festival and showcase for short works. We NEVER accept films over 60:00 in length and SHORT FILMS RECEIVE 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 or less.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thomas Edison Film Festival will continue to hold to a low $30 entry fee throughout the entire submission period from June 1st, 2021, through October 15th, 2021. There is a separate fee for each film entered. ENTRY FEES ARE NEVER WAIVED.
Throughout the 2022 festival touring season, TEFF will provide opportunities for host venues to present custom-curated TEFF screenings remotely and in-person. Virtual programs will be designed to view on Vimeo for a limited window of time agreed upon by the TEFF and the host venue. Additionally, an option for audience members to log-in to a live discussion with the Festival Director and featured filmmakers will be offered whenever possible. By submitting a film(s) to the Thomas Edison Film Festival’s 2022 Festival Competition, filmmakers (i) grant the Thomas Edison Film Festival a non-exclusive, royalty-free right and license to reproduce, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, and otherwise use the submitted film(s), in whole or in part (including excerpts, trailers, and film stills), in the programming planned for the 2022 festival tour including both in-person screenings and custom-curated secure streaming events, throughout the 2022 festival tour, and in any marketing and promotional materials (including, without limitation, in trailers, anthologies, and other marketing materials); and (ii) represent and warrant to the Thomas Edison Film Festival that the film(s) is an original work and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party, and that the submitting filmmaker(s) has/have the rights to grant us the foregoing right and license.