MU Hosts Black Maria Film Festival

MU Hosts Annual Black Maria Film Festival

The 36th Annual Black Maria Film Festival was held on Thursday, Mar. 30 at 6:30 p.m. in Pollack Theatre.

The festival takes its name from Thomas Edison’s film studio, called the “Black Maria” (pronounced “Mariah”). It was the first film studio of its time, built in 1892, and still remains; it is located in West Orange, NJ.

Associate professor of communication Donna Dolphin took the microphone and introduced the festival to the audience. She was pleased to announce that the University has hosted Black Maria 27 consecutive years.

Dolphin said that after the festival, people often come up to her to comment the love they had for the amateur films. “That’s a big mistake,” Dolphin explained. “These films are made by emerging artists and accomplished artists. They’re anything but amateur.”

The lights dimmed, the chatter from the audience came to a halt, and Dolphin made one concluding announcement. “If you are uncomfortable with anything you see, sit still and relax. Soon enough, you will see a film that will blow your mind,” she encouraged. “This is work that challenges us to connect to what we are seeing and what we are hearing.” The lights faded to black and the festival began.

The festival consisted of nine short films, but in the whole collection, there is 50. The films presented were documentaries, animations, experimentals and narratives. Each of these genres has the common goal of addressing struggles within contemporary society, such as the environment, race and class.

Each film succeeded in portraying these struggles.

“Nine Months in the Bronx Documentary” was the first film. It highlighted a 22-year-old woman who was pregnant and feared that the Administration for Child Services (ACS) would take her baby away upon being born. Mili Kakabu, a public defense lawyer in the film, explained that the ACS always drug test babies born by mothers of color in the Bronx, and if anything suspicious surfaced, the baby would be sent to an orphanage.

The next film was titled “Decision” and it was animation in black and white. It was about a person debating on which button to press and being pressured to make a choice. The goal was to promote awareness about anxiety. The chilling music blended with a heartbeat in the background contributed to achieving the goal of the film.

A narrative called “Roxy” was next, which told a story of an older prostitute who lives in a camper known as a “sex mobile.” The filmmakers chose to shine a light on a disturbing issue by highlighting one woman’s humanity. It differed from the rest of the films because it was spoken in German.

“I love the Black Maria Film Festival because the films that are presented are of the type where the images, not the story of the characters, are the purest gateways to feeling,” said Julian Garcia, a junior communication student and curator of the cinema club. Garcia was not able to attend this year’s festival, but has thoroughly enjoyed the ones in the past.

Brian Foye, a senior communication student, did not know what to expect walking into the festival, but knew exactly how he felt leaving. “The filmmakers did a great job capturing the audience’s attention,” Foye commented. “I became more and more interested with each story.”

Audrey Conforti, a freshman health studies student, was really impressed by the films she saw. “It was eye opening to see what other people’s realities are like,” she said. “I would definitely come back next year and bring my friends.” Conforti explained that she felt empathetic towards the films as she learned of each struggle and thinks it would be beneficial if everyone got the chance to watch.

Unfortunately, Pollack Theater was not even close to being full; it would have been nice to see a bigger audience to experience the eye-opening experiences that were shown in the films. However, there is always next year to make a change.

The film festival is still traveling around the country, so to see some mind-blowing cinema with a purpose, go to for tour dates. To submit an original film for a chance to be featured in next year’s festival, please email