Black Maria festival is back, set to feature Mack
By Katie Kilkenny
Published on Thursday, May 5, 2011
A journey between Pakistan and India, a 104-year-old church pianist, a pinball rolling around Pittsburgh, Pa., and a two-headed fish will all grace the silver screen as part of the 2011 Black Maria Film Festival’s 90-minute program of 10 short films, to be screened at Dartmouth this Friday at 7 p.m. in Loew Auditorium.
“With short film, you can pack in so many great things,” Hopkins Center Film Manager Sydney Stowe said. “People love to be entertained in short pieces — we all love to watch ads — and this is a best-of series.”
Now in its second year at Dartmouth, this year’s lineup includes film professor Jodie Mack’s experimental film “Yard Work is Hard Work” (2008), which has received one of the festival’s coveted first prize Jury’s Choice Selection awards. Mack, who is teaching “Handmade Strategies for 16mm Film” this term, will present her film and the nine others in the program on Friday night.
“Black Maria has a long history of quirky, fine filmmaking,” Mack said. “To be included with this group of people is astonishing.”
“Yard Work is Hard Work,” a 28-minute animated musical, is Mack’s first major film, she said. The film, which took Mach two years to complete, follows a pair of newlyweds as they renovate their house. When mortgage rates escalate and the newlyweds’ relationship becomes increasingly contentious, the wife enters a sustainability contest in Better Homes and Gardens magazine to win $50,000.
“It’s a musical comprised of eight songs that is animated with paper cutouts from discarded magazines, things that I found in the trash and domestic objects,” Mack said.
Stowe said the turnout for last year’s Black Maria was smaller than she had hoped, but she was persuaded to bring back the series because of Mack’s involvement this year.
“Mack is just a force,” Stowe said. “I just think she’s so cool. I mean, she shoots on 16 [mm], which is just a dinosaur type. As soon as we knew [Mack] was involved, and one of hers was a winner, we just thought, this is absolutely kismet.”
Stowe also ascribed last year’s low attendance to the festival’s publicity posters, which displayed stills from “The Sneeze,” one of the earliest motion pictures produced by Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio, the festival’s namesake. This year, posters for the festival display stills from the shorts coming to Dartmouth.
“I think when you put the words cutting-edge and avant-garde in the title, people get scared,” Stowe said.
The festival’s film lineup is different for each stop on its tour, so festival director John Colombus tailored Friday’s program for a Hanover audience by looking at the film and media studies department’s course offerings and the selection of Hopkins Center film screenings this term. Stowe also asked Colombus to make the lineup accessible to an audience unfamiliar with short film.
“Small, bite-sized pieces of opera will make me go see one opera one day, and I think about short film the same way,” Stowe said. “You have to lure [viewers] in and then drop in some of the trickier ones.”
At the Dartmouth screening, Mack’s film will be joined on screen by “The Stitches Speak” (2009), “Mrs. Buck in Her Prime” (2010), “Pinburgh” (2010), “Stanley Pickle” (2010), “Carpe Diem” (2010), “Hail” (2010), “New London Calling” (2010), “The Burning Wigs of Sedition” (2010) and “Eye Liner” (2009). “The Stitches Speak” and “The Burning Wings of Sedition” each received a Jury’s Stellar Selection — the prize for best in genre — for Animation and Open-Style Selection, respectively.
This year, Hanover is one of the Black Maria’s last stops on its annual circuit, which has included the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., branches of the New York Public Library, and colleges and universities such as the American University of Rome, Princeton University and Cornell University.
Mack said she appreciates the wide reach of the festival’s tour schedule, as she believes screenings in disparate locales will increase awareness of her work.
“People select different films from the festival for their program, but when [my film] does [get picked], it screens in different places that I probably wouldn’t seek out on my own or would hope to,” Mack said.
Stowe remains optimistic for the future of Black Maria, both at the College and on a broader scale.
“In this time of Hulu and Vimeo, I think short film is much more interesting,” Stowe said. “I’m hoping that as more people get exposed to film, festivals like this will become more popular. I feel that there’s not much surprise left in life.”