Black Maria Film Festival Encourages Creativity and Imagination

The 29th Black Maria Film Festival was held at Millersville on February 13-14t as part of a 70-venue stop promoting experimental, or avant-garde, filmmaking. From 50 minute films to three minute shorts, this year’s festival encourages audience members to embrace to their creative side and accept the challenge of viewing life in different ways.

Thomas Edison built the first motion picture studio in 1893 in West Orange, New Jersey. The Revolving Photographic Building was nick-named The Black Maria because it resembled a black paddy wagon (police cart which held criminals) of the 1890’s era. It was covered with black tar paper and built on a track so the building could rotate with the sun, which provided the illumination for the inside of the building.

The Festival began in West Orange, New Jersey in 1981 and is now approaching its 30th year. From across the United States, to a special presentation in Rome, this festival presents 15-20 films per tour date and each film ranges from one to 50 minutes in length.

These films break from any expectation an audience member may have. Some may be educational and same may be completely off-the-wall, yet exceptionally insightful.

The audience was welcomed by Millersville’s Mr. Ben Cunningham of the art department, and Dr. Jill Craven gave an informative lecture on film criticism. Audience members adjusted their approach on the films they were about to see. Dr. Craven taught that these films are not predictable and are usually completely different from the mainstream movies currently out in theaters. She encouraged the audience to take note on angles, setting, themes, meaning, and objects in a particular shot. All these elements came together and enabled the audience to fully appreciate the art of each film.

“The Solitary Life of Cranes” by Eva Weber was awarded with the Stellar Documentary Selection. The 27 minute documentary film captured the lives of London crane operators and what they observed from their “cockpit” in the sky. Incredibly moving and insightful, this film depicted a lonely lifestyle from a beautiful view of the London skyline.

A creative take on stopmotion, “Pickles for Nickels” by Danielle Ash, was crafted by 100 percent recycled cardboard. Characters had a 3D feel, but the fact that they were cardboard cut-outs became apparent when they were viewed from the side. They moved freely about a New York City street with detail down to the very last sewage rat. The amount of work and time that went into this project was solidified with the award for Stellar Animation Selection. The film is like nothing ever seen before. Only eight minutes in length, audience members were captivated from the beginning to the end. The artwork was simply astounding.

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Another notable work from the second day of the festival was Debby Wolfe’s “Gordita,” winner of the Stellar Narrative Selection. The 10 minute film depicts the life of a plus-size young Latina woman struggling with self-confidence. While humorous, the film still held an emotional meaning with well-executed shots of the woman’s surrounding and bold views of how she feels about her body.

A full schedule of tour dates is posted on the new website at, along with a list of award-winning films. This event cannot be missed if an individual acquires an interest in film and creative expression on any level. While some films were difficult to grasp and understand, the art of each film was certainly understood by the audience. Regardless of style, theme, and meaning of the films, audience members were encouraged to let their minds wander and imaginations flow in order to appreciate the art that encompasses The Black Maria Film Festival.