The Pocono Community Theater (PCT) in East Stroudsburg, PA presented The 29th Black Maria Film and Video Festival on Saturday March 20th. The festival was hosted by The Universalist Unitarian Fellowship of The Poconos (UUFP) in Stroudsburg, PA and a discussion was held at their facilities. Numerous film lovers attended both events which were enjoyable and left many eagerly anticipating next year‘s festival.
After a welcoming introduction given by Jim Elsaesser of the UUFP, the festival began at The Pocono Community Theater with the showing of several short independent pieces chosen from submissions made by individuals throughout the international filmmaking community. Although they were a sampling of the films awarded through the festival’s jury system, one can almost imagine the outstanding quality of the entire selection through the films presented that afternoon. They moved, touched, and informed their audiences in ways seldom accomplished making the experience a very worthwhile one.
The first of the nine films shown was entitled, “Benediction of the Beasts” received a Director’s Choice Award and was made in Rome Italy by Paul Zinder. It depicted an annual event of the Roman Catholic Church blessing the animals brought in by their owners. This is done in honor of St. Francis of Assisi who took the words of Jesus saying, “Go preach the Gospel to every nation and creature” quite literally. The film focused on the pet owners and the reasons why they were brining their friends to be blessed. Their stories were varied but shared the common faith that their God loved their pets as much as they do and is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to bless them.
The film concluded with the actual blessing itself. It seemed a bit of a contrast as the process was done in a somewhat assembly line fashion. The priest officiating the ceremony seldom spoke to the participants directly as he seemed more concerned in keeping the crowd moving in an orderly direction. This was most evident in his response of “Bravo” given to both those who introduced their pet to him and a child who said he was mean. Perhaps this contrast was presented to demonstrate the contrast between a faith in a loving God and the practices of an organized church. But, this could be stretching our interpretational imagination a bit too far.
The next film entitled, “Second Hand Dolls” received a Jury Choice Award and was made in San Francisco (a city named after St. Francis of Assisi), CA by Anthony Weeks. The film depicted the preservation of store mannequins by a shop owner who feels too many businesses are throwing away perfectly good statuettes just because new ones are available. The film also depicted an older woman in her mid seventies who continues practicing her art of ballet and is able to move through its poses in spite of her advanced age. This contrast led the film’s audience to explore who our society often cast its members aside when newer and more attractive models become available. We seldom realize many of the well established models have much to offer and can enhance the whole of society with their presence. The film was shot in black and white which enhanced it’s message by creating images starkly contrasted by their visual properties making the subjects more real and their stories more urgent to the viewer. Even the stories of the mannequins.
The next film entitled, “The Passenger” received a Jury Choice Award and was made in Marshfields, MA by Julie Zammarchi. The film reflected the personal decision of the filmmaker to end her life through a medically administered lethal injection rather than suffer the lingering effects of the terminal condition she was diagnosed with. Her story was told through the use of animation to great effect detailing her decision and speculating what she might discover after her decision is realized. The film brought many theological approaches to life and death but mostly considered those found in the eastern religions such as Buddhism and Vedanta (aka Hinduism). The film provided its audience with a nice mixture of humor and pathos which blended together to create a meaningful understanding of life and death and the decisions the affect.
The next film entitled, “Breaking Boundaries: The Art of Alex Masket” received a Director’s Choice Award and was made in Montclair, NJ by Dennis Connors. The film depicted the life of a 22 year old autistic man named Alex Masket who has created an enormous volume of artistic work made of Legos and other household items. His work has been recognized by the art community as something unique and is shown in many galleries. Indeed, their intricacies and the movement of the images he creates in his work are very impressive.
The film not only explored the effects of autism on the individuals and family along with all these people can accomplish in spite (or because of) their affliction, but the film also explored the very nature of creativity. As mentioned by one art expert appearing in the film, “One can not ascertain how Alex does what he does. However, no artist without autism can verbally tell you how they do what they do, either.” This leads to a deeper question as to the very nature of creativity and what initiates it. This is a perplexing question scholars, psychologist, and philosophers have been pondering for quite some time. But, seeing someone like Alex reminds us it’s sometimes best to put such questions aside and just enjoy the work along with all it has to offer.
The next film entitled, “Worlds of Sound: Ballad of Folkways” received a Director’s Choice Award and was made in Washington, DC by Andrea Kalin. The film chroniclized the history of Foilkways records who sought to collect every sound man and nature could make. These recordings included rainstorms, animals, and a variety of music not considered commercially viable by larger established recording studios. This music ranged from African and South American Tribal Chants to folk singers such as Pete Seger (who narrated the documentary), Woody Guthrie, and others who became well known for their musical endeavors.
What was striking about the story about this record company was how its founder decided early on not to use the company for commercial gain. In fact, there was a story depicted about how he wanted to take that approach at the very beginning by signing up a young Nat king Cole with the desire to put out a “Hit Record” and make a great deal of money like the established record companies do. However, after creating a great many records to be sent to stores, a freak snowstorm prevented him from shipping them and he became bankrupted soon afterwards. He then decided if he was going to have a viable record business, he should adopt the policy of “no more hits.” This took the pressure and limitations of only doing what made business sense and allowed him to explore new and exciting approaches to recording thus making it possible to make what doesn’t make sense work.
The next film entitled, “Found: Nothing Missing” received a Director’s Choice Award and was made in Albuquerque, NM by Patricia McInroy. The film dealt with the situation of missing animals and the signs per owners put up to find them. What could have been a bad Sarah McLaughlin commercial soon become something very amusing as the director began to wonder what happens when the animals are found and the posters still remain posted. She also explored the language used in some of the posters which sometimes gave the pets the power of speech. The film left one to wonder what happens if a pet is not found over a period of time. Do some owners hire a computer expert to work on the photograph of their pet saying, “Our cat was lost 5 years ago. This is what he looked like then. This computerized images is how he would look like now.?”
The next film entitled, “Sabastian’s Voodo” received a Director’s Choice Award and was made in Sherman Oaks, CA by Joaquin Baldwin. The computer animated film depicted a collection of Voodoo Dolls who suffer the torments of their master as he places pins in them. One doll decides to escape and put an end to this. He does so by placing pins into himself and they effect to voodoo practitioner but does not cause him to cease his activity. It isn’t until the doll sacrifices himself by placing a pin through his heart does the torture stop.
The film was enjoyable to watch and the theme of self sacrifice in order to save one friends was well taken. However, the look and style of the film lacked a certain sense of originality as it too closely resembled the 2009 film “9” directed by Shane Acker and produced by Tim Burton. Although “Sabastian’s Voodo” was made in 2008, Shane Acker did make a short film in 2005 from which his full length feature was based. This by no means suggests Joaquin Baldwin purposely set out to imitate the film “9,” but this writer would have appreciated it more if the similarities weren’t so prevalent.
The next film entitled, “My Girlfriend Sleeps Like Superman” received a Director’s Choice Award and was made in Boston, MA by Steve Gentile. This animated love poem can only be simply described as funny. Every person who ever slept alongside another person could easily relate to how their bedside partner often positions themselves into a pose resembling the flight of Superman and how that position sometimes dispels them from the bed. This often causes the male of the sleeping arrangement (like me) wondering what he did wrong now. Yet, the filmmaker utilizes this experience to reflect upon his affection by imagining himself protecting his sleeping girlfriend from the likes of Lex Luthor who is entering their bedroom with a bowl full of Kryptonite to which he pushes him down the stairs. The dude is smarter than your average Jimmy Olsen.
The final film entitled, “Missed Aches” received a Jury Choice Award and was made in Sherman Portland, OR by Joanna Priestley. This animated piece was even funnier than the film shown just prior to it. It explored all the mistakes one makes while typing away even with the help of spell check. This led to the film maker to circumstances such as “not getting into a good colleague because he’s a bed spiller.” Many who have read my articles can attest I have a similar problem. The film did inspire me to be more careful in what I write. After all, I’d like to get into a good colleague as much as anyone else.
The discussions held at The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Poconos in Stroudsburg, PA explored the many themes the films offered as well as an examination of the quality of the films presented. The discussion was lively and all viewpoints were expressed in a manner denoting those present desire to learn more from the films than what was easily seen. In other words, those who participated in the discussion sought to discover the deeper meaning of the works not commonly seen by the average moviegoer. You’ll find more photographs of the festival and the subsequent discussions in The Forwardian Arts Society Pocono Community Theater 2010 Gallery.
The 29th Annual Black Maria Film and Video Festival began in 1981. The festival takes it’s name from a motion picture studio built by Thomas Edison in 1893. The festival holds an international juried competition and award tour seeking to fulfill its mission to advocate, exhibit, and reward cutting edge works from independent film and videomakers. The Award tour began on Friday February 5th at New Jersey University in Jersey City, NJ with an Opening Night and Awards Ceremony. It then commenced upon it’s nationwide tour to include venues in California, Colorado, New Jersey, Florida, and The Pocono Community Theater in East Stroudsburg, PA. They will welcome entries form filmmakers for the 30th Annual Festival in July 2010 at www.myspace.com/forwardian_arts.
The Pocono Community Theater in East Stroudsburg, PA offers local film lovers an opportunity to experience Independent and Foreign Films not commonly shown in larger movie venues. They also offer community minded events such as film festivals, art exhibitions, live theater, and other live events designed to enhance creative expression and appreciation. The next events at The Pocono Community Theater includes The Forwardian Arts Society Film and Chat Gathering on Friday April 2nd offering a late afternoon screenings of a selected film along with an opportunity to share in a discussion in the theater’s coffee house area, Lunafest on Saturday April 3rd beginning at 12pm featuring a series of 10 short films created by, for, and about women, and The First NEPA Poetry Slamfest Friday April 30th beginning at 8pm featuring 2009 Women’s Individual Word Slam Champion Rachel McKibbens along with voice performances by Youth Poets featured in HBO’s “Brave New Voices,” Urban Word NYC, The Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, and Urban Mountain Voices. Please contact The Pocono Community Theater at 570-421-3456 for more information about them and all they offer.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Poconos in Stroudsburg, PA holds a weekly service every Sunday morning along with other programs designed to enhance the spiritual experience through the acceptance and inclusion of a variety of religious teachings in their worship. The next events at The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Poconos includes their Yogananda Kriya Yoga Meditation Sessions held the first and third Mondays of each month beginning at 6:30pm and their Buddhist Meditation Meetings held every Thursday beginning at 7pm. Please contact The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Poconos at 570-420-0580 for more information about them and all they offer.
The Websites of those mentioned in this article are The Pocono Community Theatre at www.poconocommunitytheater.org, The Black Maria Film Festival at www.blackmariafilmfestival.org, The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Poconos at www.uupoconos.org, The Forwardian Arts Society at www.theforwardianartssociety.com, Lunafest at www.lunafest.org/the-films.cfm, Rachel McKibbens at www.rachelmckibbens.com, “Brave New Voices” at www.bravenewvoices.org, Urban Word NYC at www.urbanwordnyc.org, The Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement at www.phillyyouthpoet.org, and Urban Mountain Voices at www.urbanmountainvoices.org.