Nearly 85 years ago, the famous actor Thomas Meighan dreamed of making New Port Richey the Hollywood of the South.
And why not? It had the scenery, bountiful undeveloped land, and, perhaps most important, many days of the balmy, bright weather that film studios craved.
That didn't happen.
But tonight, a bit of the Hollywood spirit will be at the Art Deco movie theater built in 1926 and named in Meighan's honor. The 29th annual Black Maria (pronounced Muh-rye-uh) Film + Video Festival brings seven award-winning films from its prestigious short independent film contest to the classic building now called Richey Suncoast Theatre.
"I'm excited at the opportunity to bring the art of film/video back onto main street," said Robert Mateja, who once worked as a media technician at New Jersey City University, where Black Maria is housed, and is now an instructor in video production at Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey.
"We will be opening the event with a showcase of local video works from students in Pasco County," Mateja said. After that will be seven short films chosen by co-curators Mateja and Black Maria assistant director/program coordinator Louis Libitz.
The films were chosen especially for the local audience and would be of most interest to teenagers and adults:
Second Hand Dolls (5:31) — a documentary about the parallel situations of a discarded store mannequin and an aging dancer.
Looploop (5 min.) — an experimental work of 1,000 images taken on a train trip and digitally stacked to mimic memories replaying in the mind.
Pickles to Nickels (8 min.) — an award-winning animation in which cardboard monkeys steal pickles and everything changes.
Missed Aches (4 min.) — animation of malapropisms.
Off-Line (8:40) — a digital 3D animation involving a pig's head and a microwave oven with an anthropomorphized circuit board.
Benedizione Delle Bestie (Benediction of the Beasts) (10 min.) — a slice-of-life documentary about the Italian/Catholic culture when people line up for the annual blessing of their pets.
The Last Day of I.S. Bulkin (13 min.) — a fictional story by a Russian filmmaker about a man who learns that his death is pre-scripted and about to happen.
The festival takes its name from the nickname given the first motion picture studio built by Thomas Edison in 1893, a small shotgun-style building made from cheap lumber and covered in tar paper in West Orange, N.J. Locals said the building looked like police wagons of the day, which were called "black marias."
Edison and his crew made several films there, rolling back the roof and wheeling the whole building around to take advantage of the sunlight.
Film lover John Columbus founded the festival in 1982 and is its current executive director.
Each year, independent filmmakers from around the world are invited to enter a film or video no longer than 59 minutes. This year, there were more than 700 entries that went through a rigorous screening by panels of professional judges.
Usually, there are about 50 winners in several categories, Libitz said. But this year, there were so many good entries that the judges chose 70.
Meanwhile, 60 to 70 possible venues applied to show selections from those winners. Either Columbus or Libitz then worked with a local representative to decide which of the films should be shown at each locale.
This year's 65 festivals will be held in such places as the University of Hartford in Connecticut, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, the Morristown (N.J.) Unitarian Fellowship, Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, and Rutgers University in Newark, N.J.
One regular stop is the Edison & Ford Winter Estates and Edison State College, both in Fort Myers, in honor of Edison's winter hometown.
"We're hoping to do this every year," said Charlie Skelton, president of the Richey Suncoast board of directors.