As movie buffs watch blue avatars swoop through the audience in three dimensions, they might forget that it was only 107 years ago that Thomas Edison built America's first-ever movie studio in West Orange, N.J.
Made of cheap lumber and covered in black tarpaper, the building looked like a three-room shotgun house and cost a whopping $637.67 — or roughly what today's Hollywood diva might spend on one pair of Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo shoes.
People in West Orange, N.J., dubbed the studio "Black Maria" (pronounced muh-RYE-uh) after the dark, stuffy police wagons it resembled. For a decade or so, Edison and his cohorts used it to make short movies that wowed the crowds.
The studio's first production was Fred Ott's Sneeze (1894), which showed an employee comically sneezing over and over. Subsequent popular subjects were cockfighting, boxing matches and, of course, scantily-clad women.
In 1982, in honor of Black Maria, movie buff John Columbus founded and became first executive director of the Black Maria Film + Video Festival in Jersey City, N.J.
Every year, he and assistant director Louis Libitz take several of the 70 award-winning short independent films chosen by panels of professional judges from more than 700 entries to venues in the United States and Europe, including Princeton University, the American University in Rome, Italy, Syracuse University, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., ...
And, at 8 p.m. Friday, Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey (doors open at 7 p.m.).
The refurbished 1920s-era movie theater joined this impressive list of film venues when theater board member Charlie Skelton was talking to Rob Mateja from Marchman Technical Education Center one day not long ago.
"I said I wanted to integrate the visual arts with the performing arts at the theater," Skelton said. By fortunate coincidence, "Rob said a friend of his is head of a film festival," the Black Maria.
Mateja went to school at New Jersey City University, where the Black Maria is housed, worked as a technician in media arts there and is co-curator of the upcoming film festival at Richey Suncoast with Libitz.
Each film festival has a different lineup of films, chosen for the audience expected to come. The films coming to Richey Suncoast are geared to teenagers and adults (younger kids may like a few but could become fidgety during others).
So far, Mateja and Libitz have chosen seven, each from 3 to 13 minutes, and may add others to make the event 90 minutes to two hours long, including introductions and commentary.
The list includes animations, documentaries, short stories and experimental films:
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.) winner, "Stellar Animation Selection," in which cardboard monkeys steal pickles and everything changes;
Missed Aches (4 min.) Animation of malapropisms;
Off-Line (8:40) Digital 3D animation involving a pig's head and a microwave oven with a 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; and
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.
Libitz just held a film fest at a Poconos resort, where the majority of attendees were 50 or older, and they loved every single movie, he said.
Tickets are $4; call (727) 842-6777 and leave a message to get a call-back.