The Thomas Edison Film Festival, formerly known as the Black Maria Film Festival, will kick off its 40th anniversary season on February 20, with a virtual screening, a discussion with filmmakers, and presentation of the Edison Innovation Award. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. via Zoom with the award to filmmaker Lynne Sachs, continues with a conversation with filmmakers Sachs, Lisa Barcy, Otto Bell, Charly and Eriel Santagado, and Sophie Shui and Festival Director Jane Steuerwald, and then premieres the top five Jury’s Stellar Award-winning Festival films. The event is free and open to the public and presented by the Thomas Edison Media Arts Consortium in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts at Princeton University. More information and registration is available at arts.princeton.edu/Thomas-Edison-Film-Festival.
Thomas Edison Film Festival is an international juried competition celebrating all genres and independent filmmakers across the globe. For 40 years the Festival has been advancing the unique creativity and power of the short film. The Festival was founded in 1981 and was originally named for Thomas Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey, 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 at the core of the Festival.
The Thomas Edison Media Arts Consortium also showcases the New Jersey Young Filmmakers Festival and the Global Insights Collection, an archive of films focusing on the environment, LGBTQ subjects, people with disabilities, international issues, race and class, and films with themes of social justice.
This is the third year the Lewis Center has collaborated with the Consortium to host the Festival. In addition to premiering the season, the Consortium programs other screenings for Princeton audiences and brings together Festival filmmakers with Princeton students and faculty. Current Princeton senior Ilene E’s animated film, Jane, was among the 2021 Festival-selected films earning a Jury’s Citation Award. E has also authored an essay that appears in the Festival program.
The Festival received more than 500 submissions for the 2021 season from every continent around the globe except Antarctica. Following an extensive pre-screening by experts in the field of film curation, media studies and production, the highly regarded Festival jurors — Margaret Parsons, Head Curator of Film at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and Henry Baker, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and former director of Synapse Video Center — chose 100 films for the 2021 collection and awarded the top prizes. Following the premiere at Princeton, these films are made available for screenings in the U.S. and abroad.
The five prize-winning films being screened at the premiere include:
Maya at 24 by Lynne Sachs of Brooklyn, New York, is an experimental film in which Sachs filmed her daughter Maya in 16mm, black and white film, at ages 6, 16 and 24. At each iteration, Maya runs around her mother, in a circle — clockwise — as if propelling herself in the same direction as time, forward. Conscious of the strange simultaneous temporal landscape that only film can convey, we watch Maya in motion at each distinct age.
In The Ephemeral Orphanage, an animated film by Lisa Barcy of Chicago, a group of tattered paper dolls daydream alternate realities and surreptitiously explore the hidden lives of their strict and secretive caregivers. Hijinks ensue and discoveries are made as the characters live out their childhood fantasies. Created with found paper dolls cut from a 1920’s newspaper and others found in an attic, the film explores the adults’ attempt to dictate what girls learn and the children’s talent for discovering forbidden knowledge.
The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima is a documentary film by Otto Bell of New York City relating how the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 triggered a tsunami, nuclear meltdown and mass evacuations in Fukushima Prefecture. Today, as part of a government push to encourage resettlement, local hunters have been enlisted to dispose of radiated wild boars that now roam the abandoned streets and buildings. The film follows a lone hunter into an isolated and changed landscape. Along the way, other citizens who still live near the reactor share their perspectives on the aftermath. The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima was inspired by the photographs of co-producers Toru Hanai and Yuki Iwanami. The original score was written and performed by renowned ambient artist Midori Takada.
De-Eschatology, an experimental film by Charly Santagado and Eriel Santagado from nearby Metuchen, New Jersey, is a physical manifestation of the claustrophobic conditions created by the COVID-19 crisis and the yearning to break free from them. The piece seeks to draw attention to a heightened sense of touch, which directly results from the lack of physical contact many in quarantine face. The film’s trajectory explores the gradual de-escalation of shelter-in-place orders and its psychological effects.
In order to take care of his aged and disabled mother with dementia, Xia Changming is unable to work and lives at home with his mother, wife and son, in A Trip with Mom, a narrative film by Sophie Shui of New Taipei, Taiwan. Under multiple pressures of complaints from his wife, and economic, physical, and mental stress, Changming is always depressed and feels hopeless and helpless to change his family’s situation. Finally, after the police bring his mother back after she has wandered away, Changming decides to take her on a trip.
The premiered films will remain to view on-demand through February 21. Select films from the 2020 season are available on-demand on the Festival’s website.
Attendees are required to register in advance for the Zoom Webinar link at arts.princeton.edu/Thomas-Edison-Film-Festival and will be provided with the link to view the films.
Venues interested in scheduling a screening should contact Festival Director Jane Steuerwald at jane@TEFilmFest.org. The Festival offers programming options ranging from a custom-curated program, to an online film presentation by the Festival director, including a Q&A and dialogue with the audience.
In addition to the support provided for the 2021 season by the Lewis Center, the Thomas Edison Film Festival receives generous support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts; the Charles Edison Fund – Edison Innovation Foundation; the Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs and Tourism; the Hoboken Historical Museum; Big Sky Edit; WithumSmith+Brown; Lowenstein Sandler, LLP; the NBA; Monster Remotes; Syracuse University; Fairleigh Dickenson University; Adobe Systems, Inc.; and Microsoft through TechSoup.org.
To learn more about the Thomas Edison Film Festival and Thomas A. Edison Media Arts Consortium, visit blackmariafilmfestival.org. To learn more about the Lewis Center for the Arts, the premiere screening, and the more than 100 public performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts and lectures presented each year, most of them free, visit arts.princeton.edu.
ADDITIONAL MEDIA COVERAGE FOR THE FESTIVAL
“N.J. international film fest begins 40th year with new name, new approach” | NJ.com, February 14, 2021
“Bringing the movies to you: 100 short films to begin virtual screenings Saturday for Thomas Edison Film Festival” | NEWS 12, February 16, 2021