With today's profusion of cell phones that make movies and with high-definition cameras the size of a deck of cards, it's hard to believe that it was only 114 years ago that Thomas A. Edison was making the first primitive celluloid moving pictures in a makeshift tar-paper building that looked like a police paddy wagon, also known as a Black Maria (pronounced muh-RYE-uh).
That's the namesake of the Black Maria Film + Video Festival, the 30-year-old short-film festival appearing in more than 60 museums, universities, colleges, churches and theaters across the United States and making a stop tonight at Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey.
The two-hour event features short films by the winners of the annual worldwide contest held by the Edison Media Arts Consortium based at New Jersey City University, as well as short films by local students.
"We felt bringing a traveling film festival like the Black Maria would complement New Port Richey's historical past and expose people to something different in the area," said Rob Mateja, who with Deborah Pentivolpi founded the Thomas Meighan Project, which is devoted to raising awareness of the city's cinematic past. In the 1920s, film star Meighan lived in New Port Richey and hoped to make the town the Hollywood of the East, but the Great Depression squelched those hopes.
Black Maria films played to a full house at Richey Suncoast a year ago, when its New Jersey executives fell in love with the refurbished art deco venue and vowed to keep it on the circuit.
Of the hundreds of films submitted in the 2011 competition, a panel of professional judges chose about 50 winners in several categories, some as short as three minutes, others up to 55 minutes long. After that, program coordinator Louis Libitz worked with leaders at carefully selected venues to choose films that will appeal to their audiences.
Local organizers are Mateja, a former NJU student and current instructor at Marchman Technical Education Center; Greater New Port Richey director Pentivolpi; and Richey Suncoast managing director Charlie Skelton.
Among this year's films are:
The Stitches Speak, a 12-minute animation selection created by Nina Sabnani of Mumbai, India, which features women's appliques and embroideries that trace Kutch artisans' journeys between Pakistan and India as they establish the Kala Raksha Trust and School for Design.
Mrs. Buck in Her Prime, a nearly 10-minute film by James Franklin Gould about 104-year-old Neva Buck, who plays piano at several churches in and around her small Washington, N.C., home.
Pinburgh, a five-minute Jurors' Citation Selection by Doug Cooper of Pittsburgh that combines live action and digital animation techniques to show a young dancer cavorting around drawn scenes, running down digital stairs and bouncing through cityscapes.
Stanley Pickle, an 11-minute Jurors' Choice Selection by Vicky Mather of Berkshire, England, about a 20-year-old man/boy who has lived his life in isolation without knowing there was anything but his clockwork toys and his doting mother.
Cirque, a Claymation film by Marchman student Krystal Boersen.
UFO!, a light art video project by Marchman student Dylan Bukowczyk.
Ms. Boersen just received a DreamWorks Scholarship from the Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota.
Mateja and Pentivolpi are also organizing the Thomas Meighan Film Festival on Nov. 12 to promote local digital and film artists.
"I hope that people will look at these events as a progression to what this area can become and establish the arts as an important economic component," Mateja said.