March 23, 2000
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—The 19th annual Black Maria Film-Video Festival will present an evening of independent film and video in Stirn Auditorium at Amherst College on Friday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. The screening is free and open to the public.

Black Maria is a competitive festival judged by film curators from the Museum of Modern Art and the New York Film Festival, among others. These are short movies made by non-commercial filmmakers whose work, according to festival guidelines, must show "artistic imagery, dynamic production values and concern for the human condition."

The festival originated in New Jersey and was named for a tar-paper shack at the Edison Laboratories where the very first films—all films were short and experimental then—were made in the 1890s. The tar paper reminded workers of a police wagon, commonly called a "Black Maria."

John Columbus, the founder and director of Black Maria, teaches filmmaking at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He was inspired to make films by a childhood visit to Edison Labs.

Columbus asks, "We appreciate short stories and short poems, we appreciate small etchings and watercolors and minuets, why can’t we appreciate the short art form in film? Unfortunately, our perception and definition has been circumscribed by the Hollywood model, which is narrative storytelling in chronological order. After more than 100 years, why can’t we expand our idea of what film can be?"

The Thomas Edison Black Maria Film-Video Festival is sponsored in part by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Its appearance at Amherst is sponsored by the Amherst College Department of English.