Film Festival a Breath of Fresh Air

By Jordan Berry

For those who enjoy “art house films” or are just looking for a respite from the typical Hollywood fare of the Cobb Hollywood 16, clear the calendar for 7 p.m. tonight. The Bama Theatre will present one of the world’s premiere traveling film festivals.

The 29th Black Maria Film Festival is a showcase for independent film and videomakers, particularly those who specialize in short, experimental films. Kevin Ledgewood, publicist for the Arts & Humanities Council for Tuscaloosa County, said this will be the third time the Bama Theatre has hosted the annual festival.

“We’re really excited about another opportunity to host the Black Maria film festival because the festival is a part of our purpose,” Ledgewood said. “That is, it is a part of promoting the arts in West Alabama. We’ve gradually introduced a few independent films to the arts repertoire, as a response to what the community has responded to over the years.”

Ledgewood said the festival would be similar to both the Manhattan Short Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Film Festival. The difference, Ledgewood said, is that while these three festivals are the leading champions of short, independent films, the Black Maria Film Festival will focus on experimental films.

“Today the works exhibited by the Black Maria Film and Video Festival explore the human condition as well as the creative potential of the medium,” Ledgewood said. “They offer a mosaic of artistically conceived film and video forms but with an emphasis on cutting edge sensibility.”

Martin McCaffery, manager of Montgomery’s Capri Theatre, has been a part of the festival for years. This year, he is introducing each of the 14 films. McCaffery also echoes the sentiments shared by Ledgewood.

“The Black Maria Film Festival is an awesome opportunity to reach out to filmmakers around the world,” McCaffery said. “Its purpose is to give them leeway to experiment with the medium.”

Despite the experimental nature of the films, McCaffery said he thinks that people who have little experience with independent, experimental films will enjoy themselves. He said he had advice for first-time attendees.

“Don’t be afraid,” McCaffery said. “They are not going to hurt you. You don’t have to like everything, but there are many that are entertaining and accessible. Plus, what would you be missing? ‘24?’ These are much more realistic than ‘24.’”

McCaffery said another unique feature is that each individual program is custom-tailored for the various audiences across the nation. The Bama Theatre carefully selected a set of films that it hopes will be accessible and meaningful for its community. This set was drawn from the annual collection of 50 award-winning films, which was carved out by an arduous jurying process of almost 700 submissions.

According to the festival’s Web site, the festival is named after the primitive studio Thomas Edison built in 1892. It was covered in black tar paper to keep out the rain, causing some performers to compare it to police paddy wagons, which were nicknamed Black Marias. It was in the original Black Maria that Edison shot some of his first motion pictures.

Admission prices are $7 general, $6 students and seniors and $5 Arts Council members. For more information about the festival, visit www.blackmariafilmfestival.org, tuscarts.org, or call 205-758-5195.

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